I've loved and not so loved the odd Kevin Smith film. There, I've said it. I feel better! But that's the prerogative of a lifetime fan, right?
As a 22 year old, unsure of what I wanted from life I rented "Clerks" (not from RST Video!) on video release in 1994/5. The simplicity of the story immediately resonated with me, as did the entire Black and White film. Of my favourite film directors, it's one of the best debut films I've ever seen, and that remains true to this day, 23 years (and a LOT of films) later. In those 23 years, Kevin has directed a further 11 films, contained within are some fantastic comedies, always with a constant theme of love, laughter and friendship and two that in years to come should/must be regarded as all-time, genre breaking greats.
As you'll read below, I adore "Dogma" and "Red State" to almost obsessive levels. They are genre breaking masterpieces that challenge the audience to consider their preconceived ideas and more importantly to keep up and pay attention. They break barriers, ask questions and treat the audience as adults of free hearts and minds to make their own decisions, own assumptions. "Dogma" quite literally blew my tiny mind and "Red State" is a tour de force, a film so good you simply have to see!
His diary book is a manic joy to read, his podcasts with partner in crime Jason Mewes are a riot of gags, jokes and sweary in your face madness!
But Kevin is a Director of must see films. He has written every film he has directed with the exception of "Cop Out". He has also edited every film with the exception of "Mallrats". Kevin has also acted in many of his own creations, especially as the iconic character "Silent Bob". A true hands on auteur, with a passion for his films shining through. A Director of a number of TV specials and Documentaries and Producer/Executive Producer on numerous other films, the following are my personal appraisals of the film's directed by Kevin, and films I have grown up with and loved and the occasional not so loved! It is also worth noting that whilst Kevin has persuaded some of our generation's best character actors to work on his films, they are also family and friend affairs, both in front of the camera, and behind the scenes.
As with all my film blogs, I will endeavour to keep spoilers to an absolute minimum as it is not my intention in any way to spoil your enjoyment. I have written these amateur appraisals from a fan's perspective with an intention of providing a taster for each film rather than long exposition and dreaded spoilers! This is my appreciation of Kevin Smith, his characters and the truly unique stories he tells. I hope you enjoy.
- Red State (2011)
- Dogma (1999)
- Clerks (1994)
- Chasing Amy (1997)
- Jersey Girl (2004)
- Clerks II (2006)
- Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
- Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
- Tusk (2014)
- Mallrats (1995)
- Cop Out (2010)
- Yoga Hosers (2016)
"I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
Based around a single day, "Dante Hicks" (a superb Brian O'Halloran) is a tired, put upon clerk who had rather different plans for the day. Joined by "Randal Graves" (the film's heartbeat and star, played excellently by Jeff Anderson), we enjoy their polar opposite views on virtually every subject of discussion, and there are many, often obtuse subjects, and always very, very funny. Randal, free spirited and carefree, manages the adjoining video store to where Dante runs the general store. Their daily dichotomy and conversations with their customers cover everything, from sex, to life, to the abuse of power and their very tall tales. Oh, and Star Wars. And Star Wars again! And meaningless jobs, incontinent customers, and generally hating their customers thoroughly! Darkly comedic, flat out hysterical at times. This is just a small sample of the topics for the day.
The relationship between Dante and Randal is key. Although opposites in many ways, it's clear they are deep, best friends who are often prone to separately quoting the same dialogue "Bunch of savages in this town". Both are at times utterly hilarious with Randal prominent and dominating the time on screen. Assisted by a great screenplay from Director Smith, his comedic timing is stunning. Together with the above taster of the topics of the day, there are numerous comedic examples of Randal simply being himself with no barriers to pretension or his job, just seemingly one stream of consciousness after the other. One particular example sees him reeling off several titles of required porn films to a distributor, with Randal perfectly at ease with the young mother and daughter standing at the counter!
Ably supported in key roles by Lisa Spoonhauer as Dante's ex girlfriend "Caitlin Bree" and the excellent Marilyn Ghigliotti as present girlfriend "Veronica". There are also cameo roles from fellow Producer and Editor Scott Mosier as stoner "Willam" (plus two other separate roles!) and the iconic roles of "Jay" (Jason Mewes) and "Silent Bob" (Kevin Smith). Jay and Silent Bob's brief intercut scenes are excellent and extremely funny. As with all future Kevin Smith films both family and friends continually fill one and often more than one role, both in front of and behind the camera. Set almost exclusively within a small convenience store there are numerous extremely brief and funny cameos from various customers who annoy the shit out of Dante and Randel. To list them would be to hint at significant plot spoilers and/or funny exposition and regardless, this film is so good you need to watch it and enjoy the brief cameos as they come and go.
Not following a strict three act structure, 16 of the scenes are named with Title Cards, starting with "Vilification" to "Jay and Silent Bob", "Syntax" through to "Denouement" to name just four. There are also numerous close up shots of random events or items, from painted toenails to a unnamed black dog (credited as Haiku), an unnamed black cat (credited as Lenin's Tomb) and others to be discovered as you watch. With a fixed camera on the counter, we see Lenin's Tomb relieve itself, to the bemusement of staff and customer alike! The camera use is interesting, as to an untrained eye it appears many scenes use only one camera, rarely two, often static, capturing one character alone, to be joined by another before departing the scene, with the camera rarely moving at all.
Backed by a great heavy rock soundtrack including "Got Me Wrong" by Alice in Chains, "Can't Even Tell" by Soul Asylum and "Leaders and Followers" by Bad Religion, this very personal film for Kevin Smith touches on themes unsurprisingly close to his heart of love, friendships and loyalty and especially an overriding theme that life isn't dictated and can be changed at any time. The film aptly shows this, and is a treasure and a triumph, heart warming and funny as hell. Shot, edited and produced in Kevin's spare time when not actually working at the store where the film takes place it is a genuine debut masterpiece. Friend Scott Mosier, as well as acting in front of the camera also assists with producing and editing and both Kevin and Scott were ably assisted by David Klein as Cinematographer. 19 years since release and still as fresh and rewarding as when I first watched it. A joy of a film.
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned for Sega"
As with the majority of Kevin Smith films the soundtrack is a superb accompaniment with stand out tracks included from Bush "Bubbles", Weezer "Susanne" and Elastica "Line Up". There are some great comedic set pieces (especially involving Jay and Silent Bob), a star turn from Jason Lee, a manic cameo from Michael Rooker and a topless 3 titted Psychic, Mallrats is a funny romp at times, just not often enough. With comic book hero Stan Lee in a cameo, this is clearly a film close to Kevin Smith's heart and a deeply personal. Not always hanging together perfectly and not a particular favourite film of mine, I'll leave it to Alyssa Jones in the future "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" film to sum up this movie "well, at least it wasn't as bad as Mallrats!"
Chasing Amy (1997)
"This is all gonna end badly"
"Holden McNeil" (Ben Affleck) and "Banky Edwards" (Jason Lee) are comic book writing partners and lifelong friends. Affleck is utterly brilliant as a chilled, content writer, delivering great comic one liners in an attempt to diffuse his Partner's slightly less calm attitude to life! Always apologising for his behaviour, Affleck's performance is near perfect. In contrast to his writing partner's attitude, Banky is angry and frustrated, highly opinionated and straight talking. Often hilariously so! Jason Lee brings the character to life brilliantly, and as with all Kevin Smith collaborations, dominates the screen whenever present in a performance that simply has to be seen. Friends with "Hooper" (star performance from Dwight Ewell), they are introduced to the film's real star, and with the company she keeps, this is a high compliment. Joey Lauren Adams performance as "Alyssa Jones" is just stunning. Fast talking, flirtatious and sure of both herself and her life, Adams balances the changes in her character brilliantly throughout. Early in the film it's clear that Holden has fallen in love with Alyssa, and their developing friendship is the heart and soul of the film. Their scenes perfectly encapsulate the early developing friendship and deep affection they have for each other and it's not a spoiler to suggest that their love and relationship will be difficult. This is evident very early on, as is your engagement with their plight. Their six minute scene in the pouring rain can be truly heartbreaking:
The scene plays out in three distinct segments after Alyssa flirtatiously bargains for a Dyksiezski painting in a local restaurant. With one camera in the back seat of the car we follow Alyssa and Holden as the camera moves between their conversation. Alyssa dominates as she teases Holden playfully before announcing that the picture is a gift for him and to commemorate their friendship. The one camera moves slowly between the two but only rarely onto Holden's reactions and his awkward, nervous responses as Alyssa, forever smiling and beaming is at peace with everything and pleased to be able to buy a small gift for a friend.
With the raining teaming down outside the stationary car and with a brilliant comic timing of a loud clap of thunder Holden professes his love to a shocked Alyssa who's simply unable to respond.
"You're the epitome' of everything I've ever looked for in a human being"
One main camera and just two in total capture a furious and physical row between the two, Alyssa in a rage at Holden's "crush" and at the impossibility of their situation. Backed by two pieces of beautifully conflicting pieces of music, the pair embrace and the audience cheers!
There are some great touches throughout, from the Kevin Smith staples (Star Wars and other film references), plus homages to his first film including an insert shot of the Quick Stop and a fleeting reference to the, ahem, "incident" that occurred in the bathroom there! In the hands of Jason Lee there are some brilliantly comedic outbursts and who again shines in a Kevin Smith film. There are many great scenes in this near two hour film but not wanting to provide endless spoilers I'll simply hint at a subtle moment involving porn at a railway station that may amuse and one other scene stands out that encapsulates everything that is truly great about this film. Comparing sexual escapades early in the film, all main characters are amusingly telling their tall tales around a single nightclub table. Clearly a homage to the USS Indianapolis scene from Jaws, the black and white flashbacks inserted throughout are clever, affecting, and a joy.
Director of Photography David Klein returns for his third collaboration with Director Smith and again excels especially with the dissected rain scene above and Smith is again on editing duties with Scott Mosier. David Pirner also returns with a superb musical score to accompany the film, as does an eclectic choice of soundtrack ranging from Joey Lauren Adams singing "Alive" brilliantly in the film, "Insomnia" by Faithless and "Prelude #2 in C Minor by Johann Sabastian Bach. The soundtrack is highly recommended and also includes track from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Gwen Guthrie and Soul Asylum.
Jay and Silent Bob provide more outrageous comedy at the beginning of Act 3 and brilliantly begin the climax of the film, a film that shocked me 15 years ago at how superb it was. All these years later, the film has aged well and is still as affecting as ever as it highlights a constant Smith theme of lifelong friendships and it's up's and down's. Unrequited love and sexuality are all on display and graphically discussed. A joy of a film and utterly brilliant.
"Good Lord. The little stoner has a point!"
I will keep the remainder purposefully vague for two reasons. Firstly, if you haven't seen this film and have stumbled your way down my Kevin Smith appreciation unaware of how good Dogma is then I hope when you see the following cast list you'll be intrigued further and desperate to see this all time classic film. The following really is the cast list and the characters they play are as noted! Secondly, I intend to write a complete scene by scene treatise of Dogma some day as I obsess time and time again over this film. So until that time, here are your principal players:
Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) The Last Scion and saver of the earth. As you would expect from such an exalted and indeed expectant role, Fiorentino is the star of the film and utterly brilliant. A true star performance.
Bartleby (Ben Affleck) A fallen angel intent on returning home to heaven, with the occasional wild killing spree in the meantime. Also prone to spreading his wings occasionally.
Loki (Matt Damon) See Bartleby above just with less wing spreading tendencies and more loquacious dialogue and thoughts on the world.
Metatron (Alan Rickman) The Voice of God. Her occasional confidant too. Alan Rickman with added sarcasm to match his wingspan. A brilliant performance.
Rufus (Chris Rock) The thirteenth apostle on talking terms with both Jesus and God. One of them owes him "12 bucks" apparently.
(Salma Hayek) A Muse rewarded with a real life back on earth. Makes quite a first impression! Also responsible for 19 of the top 20 grossing films of all time but had nothing to do with the Home Alone film, apparently. "Somebody sold their soul to Satan to get the grosses up on that piece of shit"
Azrael (Jason Lee) Another Muse but condemned to hell who's wrecking havoc on his return to earth. Jason Lee again brilliant in a Kevin Smith film.
Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) It wouldn't be Dogma if it wasn't for Jay and Bob's stoner wisdom.
God (Alanis Morissette) Skipping, smiling, cartwheeling God.
(George Carlin) A cameo performance that only George Carlin could play. Much missed. Rest in Peace dear sir.
Lethal when carrying hockey sticks.
A Golgothan Shit Demon
A classic film needs a stand out musical score and Howard Shore provides it in spades and the soundtrack to the film is highly recommended too. "The Blue Danube Waltz Opus 314" by Johann Strauss is mixed with "Magic Moments" from Perry Como, "Candy Girl" from New Edition and the more contemporary "It's Like That" from Run DMC. Numerous cameos from Kevin Smith regulars, so many subtle, and some not so subtle film references, plus of course the odd mention of Star Wars! A myopic fan but I remain astonished that Dogma did not feature in any Oscar nominations of the year and has continued to be only warmly received. It certainly pokes at least one eye very hard and challenges the audience to go along with the utter absurd nature of the story juxtaposed with a challenge to their beliefs even for those with no religious leanings. 14 years on since it's initial release Dogma remains fresh and stunning, sublimely edited to just over a two hour runtime with visual effects that 14 years on, on the whole, still stand up to scrutiny. Brilliant character performances bring to life Kevin Smith's surreal screenplay so put your tongue firmly in your cheek, drop the religious bullshit and dogma, and enjoy one of the best films of all time. In two hours time, Alanis Morrissette's "Still" will play over the closing credits and you'll have enjoyed a stunning film.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
"On night's like this....I miss dating a lesbian!"
With four cameo appearances behind them, Jay and Silent Bob finally take top billing. Put your tongue firmly in your cheek (again) and enjoy this romp, as it gets better and better with repeated watching and with disbelief suspended, a genuinely funny film. But first, "A long time ago, in front of a convenience store far, far away..." "Jay" (Jason Mewes) and "Silent Bob" (Kevin Smith) reprise their roles again. An opening montage scene of the 1970's to present day (which has to be seen to be believed) and from the 1970's we return to familiar territory with Jay and Silent Bob now back outside the Quick Stop. With the "Bluntman and Chronic" comics from the earlier Chasing Amy film now being made into a film itself, and with no royalties heading their way, Jay and Silent Bob head to Hollywood to wreak havoc and stop their own movie being made!
The cameos from previous Kevin Smith films are numerous. "Dante Hicks" (Brian O'Halloran) and "Randal Graves" (Jeff Anderson) are working again in the Quick Stop (Clerks), "Brodie Bruce" (Jason Lee) is running his own comic book store (Mallrats) and "Banky Edwards" (Jason Lee again) returns with "Holden McNeil" (Ben Affleck) from Chasing Amy along with "Alyssa Jones" (Joey Lauren Adams). Ben Affleck also plays both himself, the Holden McNeil role and "Chuckie" from the film Good Will Hunting alongside a reprised role of "Will Hunting" from Matt Damon. These are just a small sample of the of the reprised roles that support Jay and Silent Bob in their quest in a film that gets funnier and more absurd as we go. Alongside a returning Alanis Morrisette as God the following are true highlights of an absurd film that sends itself up to ridiculously high levels:
Hitchhiker (George Carlin) Explaining why he gives a blowjob for a ride he explains "There's no way I'm gonna cough up 200 bucks just to get to Chicago" and "It's the new millennium. Gay, straight....it's all the same now. There are no more lines"
Nun (Carrie Fisher) In deference to the Director's continuous use of Star Wars themes, references and discussions in all of his films, Princess Leia herself! A brilliant cameo as a Nun.
Willenholly (Will Ferrell) A riotous wildlife Federal Marshall.
Cocknocker (Mark Hamill) Luke Skywalker as you've never seen him before!
Chaka Luther King (Chris Rock) "No, you the man. And that's the problem"
The film's true star.
The film is very top heavy with cameos to say the least but taken as a whole and with tongue firmly in cheek it works well. There are numerous further cameos from stars simply playing themselves, including film director buddies Gus Van Sant and Wes Craven and many more actor playings cameo roles, cameos of themselves in other films, their real life selves or sending up roles played by other actors who are also in the film. Numerous movies are referenced as we go, so many gags (subtle and not so subtle!) and a film that never, ever takes itself seriously and revels in it with numerous nods to camera and knowing looks directly at the audience.
The eclectic soundtrack includes many references to fit the many cameos and previous films mentioned throughout the film and is superb, oh, and "Justice" (Shannon Elizabeth), "Chrissy" (Ali Larter), "Missy" (Jennifer Schwalbach) and "Sissy" (Eliza Dushku) break into a diamond store dressed head to toe in black pvc, and for that, Kevin Smith, I salute you!
Jersey Girl (2004)
"Like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is ever going to have a movie career"
Act One sets this up perfectly:
Standing in front of her class reading her lengthy essay on "My Family", "Gertie Trinke" (Raquel Castro) and her story merge into a short narration as the back story to her family is filled via a flashback to December 1994. Dad "Ollie Trinke" (Ben Affleck) is a successful publicist, in demand and at the very top of his game. Mum "Gertrude Steiney" (Jennifer Lopez) is finally pregnant and dealing with the emotional demands that this is pressing on her. Added to the mix is genial Granddad "Bart Trinke" (George Carlin) who is enjoying life with the occasional tipple. But all is about to change.
Ollie is excellently played (as ever) by Ben Affleck, matching the film's subtle tone with his perfectly. Ably assisted by Jennifer Lopez as wife Gertrude and Liv Tyler as "Maya". A particular nod to George Carlin is due. A comedian almost without peer, he plays Bart brilliantly and with, that word again, subtlety, a light touch that simply charms. But it's Raquel Castro who stands out and who brings seven year old Gertie to life effortlessly. Her joint scenes with everyone are a real joy and she simply lights up the screen every time. Minor cameos from Smith stalwarts Jason Lee and Matt Damon, plus wife Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, however the cameo stars are reserved for Jason Biggs as "Arthur Brickman" and of course, the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith.
The soundtrack is excellent and fits the film perfectly. To describe the music choices as one of the best aspects of the film seems to damn it with faint praise. But it shouldn't, as the choices of "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green, "High" by The Cure, and two classic Bruce Springsteen tracks are inspired, as is the inclusion of the superb "That's how I knew this story would break my heart" from Aimee Mann. It shouldn't be faint praise as the film is far, far better than industry critics would have you believe and it will truly charm you. It's not perfect, but seen in it's correct light of a family drama, you see the subtleties and nuances and as a story that if it resonates with you, as it does with me, will stay long into the night with you and with an accompanying huge smile.
Clerks II (2006)
"Did you know Jesus was a Jew?"
Now working at Mooby's, a fast food restaurant, we join Dante on his final day before departing for Florida with bride to be "Emma", brilliantly played with over the top exuberance by Kevin Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith. We are also joined by two new main characters, "Elias", a God fearing, movie geek teenager lovingly played by Trevor Fehrman and "Becky", an excellent Rosario Dawson. The new characters bring so much to this follow up and enhance the film's returning theme of true friendship and love. The heart of this follow up film resides with two key character partnerships and surprisingly it isn't a reprise of Dante and Randal from the original film. Their crazy daily dichotomy is still here (see below) but the key relationships that drive the film fall to joint scenes between Randal and Elias, and Dante/Becky. Elias is teased and tormented mercilessly by Randal to great comedic effect. From their objections to each others movie choices to their sex lives, including Elias' explanation for still being a virgin, with one of the funniest lines in the film "Pillow Pants is a Pussy Troll who lives in her pussy!" But it's Elias' looks of disgust and over the top reactions that bring the character to life, and is really well played. Rosario Dawson lights up Becky brilliantly, wide open, warm smiles, sarcastic remarks and everything in between. And who wouldn't want to watch/listen to Rosario Dawson talking about sex? Who?! It's clear from early in the film that Dante is in love with Becky and their shared scenes show a caring, loving friendship which are engagingly funny as you'd expect. But in a clever change from the original, here Dante is engaged to be married, yet falling in love with someone else and the juxtaposition from the original is stark, well scripted and well portrayed by O'Halloran and Dawson.
Another change from the original is the use of only one scene name, the introduction to "The New and Improved Jay and Silent Bob!" Although still dealing outside the restaurant and still swearing, dancing and being well, Jay and Silent Bob, the roles are brilliantly reprised again. I could pick from numerous scenes as an example, but one stands out as sheer brilliance. In a parody of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, Jay applies make up and dances to the tune of Goodbye Horses. Utterly brilliant and flat out hilarious. As is the surreal group cast dance to the Jackson 5's "ABC"!
There are numerous homages to the original, Dante still painting a girl's nails but toes and not fingers as per the original, the "milkmaid", the single drive away from work (and only major scene outside of the restaurant) and using the roof for an unusual activity are some examples. And there are numerous cameos of actors from previous Kevin Smith films, Ben Affleck, Scott Mosier and Jason Lee all figure.
But it's the daily dichotomy between Dante and Randal that stands out as an homage and key ingredient from the original film. Tackling subjects from Internet Blogs to freaky customers, Mrs Hicks and sex, to Transformers versus God, to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and of course, not forgetting Star Wars! And not forgetting the racism discussion, which has to be seen to be believed! A great soundtrack compliments the film too, with "Everything" by Alanis Morissette, "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus, "(Nothing But) Flowers" by Talking Heads and "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins. As with all Kevin Smith films, the soundtrack is a delight. Funny throughout, my brief detail here hasn't done this film justice at all. A continuing theme of friendship, love and never giving up on your dreams, Randal's touching rant towards the end of this fantastic film is the perfect summation: "I got to watch movies, fuck with ass holes, and hang out with my best friend all day". Amen to that.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
"It's a movie. What could go wrong?"
From a car crash at the beginning, we follow lifelong platonic friends Zack and Miri via work, to a hilarious high school reunion and back to their flat, where broke and unable to pay the outstanding bills, all utilities are turned off. So they decide to go and get drunk. And then they decide to make a porno! And this nearly two hour film gets better and better, and funnier and funnier. However, first, they need to put together a cast and crew:
Working with Zack at the Bean 'n' Gone Coffee Shop, "Delaney" is brilliantly played and pure comedy gold by Craig Robinson. Talked into being a Producer, mainly on the basis he'll get to judge plenty of women's breasts! Regular Kevin Smith collaborators Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes return as "Deacon" and "Lester" respectively. "Barry" is brilliantly played by Ricky Mabe, "Stacey" (Katie Morgan) and "Bubbles" (Traci Lords) make up the unlikely cast and crew.
But it's Zack and Miri who, unsurprisingly, are the stars of the show. Seth Rogen is superb as "Zack", so many one liners, comedy reactions and simple looks. It's a star turn performance of brilliant comedy. Similarly, Elizabeth Banks as "Miri", pitched perfectly throughout, the yin-yang of their relationship is epitomised in Banks performance. It's subtly clear early on that there's more to their friendship than just being friends, and it never feels awkward until the story dictates that maybe the situation now demands it.
With an eclectic choice of music and a rumbling background hum reminiscent of music in stereotypical porno's of the 1970's/1980's, the mix of 1980's/90's classic tracks also add to this fun film, from "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" by Jermaine Jackson, "Dreaming" by Blondie and "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat, to the "auditions" for the roles, and of course it's based on Star Wars! Or is it? Come on, this is a Kevin Smith film!
Don't be put off by the title, although there is plenty of naughtiness going on. It's a comedy that will charm you and second/third time around, you'll still be laughing and still enjoying the film. At times it's bloody hysterical, a real treat.
Cop Out (2010)
"Do you ever listen to yourself sometimes?"
The good stuff? The editing (by Smith) is on the whole brilliant, especially during the action sequences. Quick, manic cutting really move the film along at a pace and engage you. The characters on the whole are well conceived and played, save Willis, and as a huge Bruce Willis fan, it hurts to note this. Some characters are under developed, but many characters make up for this deficiency. Flashbacks are used to good effect, especially a sepia toned flashback to childhood.
Over minimal opening credits and "No Sleep til Brooklyn" by the Beastie Boys, we quickly join the two main characters of the film, "Jimmy Monroe" (Bruce Willis) and "Paul Hodges" (Tracy Morgan). New York Police detectives and Partners for nine years, we immediately get a feel for their characters over a discussion regarding an impending interrogation. Hodges, brilliantly played by Tracy Morgan is keen, exuberant and trying to impress his older, more worn down partner Monroe played by a seemingly disinterested Willis. Playing the straight role to Morgan's openly comedic one, they have a married couple feel to them as a partnership. Their scenes together dominate the film, sometimes working but often awkwardly not. Willis is best when centre stage and centre of the camera, dealing with his antagonism towards his daughter "Ava" (Michelle Trachtenberg) stepdad "Roy", played by a returning Jason Lee. Although a small cameo, Jason Lee is again fantastic in a Kevin Smith film.
Supporting and cameo roles abound, but the standouts worthy of mention are Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody as fellow detectives "Hunsaker" and "Mangold". Often funny, but criminally under used. Ana De La Reguera is excellent as "Gabriela", but the star cameo is Seann William Scott as a hilarious, bumbling, gag talking thief "Dave". A star of the film for sure, but top billing overall should go to Willis' Partner Paul Hodges. Tracy Morgan provides the heart and soul of the film, the comedy, the slapstick and almost holds the film together.
It's not a great film! But there is some great comedy, it moves at a good pace and has some endearing characters. If only it had been written by Kevin Smith.......
Red State (2011)
"Even the Nazi's think this guy is nuckin' futs!"
With no real opening credits we are immediately into the film, driving past a picket of a funeral by the Five Points Trinity Church, all carrying "God Hates Fags" and similar banners, reminiscent of the type carried and used by the the Westboro Baptist Church today in Kansas. As we drive by we get two fleeting glimpses of the Five Points Trinity Church Pastor, "Abin Cooper" (Michael Parks). Arriving at school, we meet three of the film's main characters "Travis" (Michael Angarano), "Billy-Ray" (Nicholas Braun) and "Jared" (Kyle Gallner) and a full on classroom discussion of the Church is instigated, giving the audience a full back story. Both inside and outside of the classroom it's immediately clear the three boys are close friends and via the Internet they've managed to arrange a long held dream, sex! A woman in the nearby district of Coopersdell has advertised and invited the boys that evening. Drinking and driving en-route, they have a minor crash but are determined to make the meeting and enjoy the evening as planned. But on arrival, everything is not quite as it seems!
There are many astonishing supporting and cameo performances in this criminally underrated 88 minute film of genius from Kevin Smith, with Melissa Leo as "Sara" the true stand out. Her joint scene with daughter "Cheyenne" (a brilliant Kerry Bishe') is equal parts stunning, frightening and scary as hell. Cheyenne's role develops with the film, but Melissa Leo as devoted family Matriarch Sara is brilliant and fully deserved an Oscar nomination that sadly wasn't forthcoming. "Sheriff Wynan" is brilliantly played by Stephen Root, "Abigail" (Betty Aberlin) a church member forever knitting and praying in the congregation is excellent but as are the many cameo roles within the church itself including "Caleb" (Ralph Garman), "Mordechai" (James Parks) and "Esther" (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith). Away from the church is another brief cameo for a returning Kevin Pollak as "Brooks" and last but definitely not least is John Goodman as ATF Agent "Joseph Keenan", who (as ever) excels, especially in his quieter, more measured moments. A picture of poise, deliberation and dedication, It's a wonderfully understated performance. All of these superb performances pale in the shadow of Abin Cooper, and an astonishing performance from Michael Parks.
(Michael Parks) The Pastor of the Five Points Trinity Church, and a performance from Michael Parks that was unbelievably overlooked for an Oscar nomination. Seemingly gentle and smiling, yet with a building and brooding menace as the minutes tick by, his southern USA accent a drawl and sometime unintelligible. Parks is just a brooding fire, building and building and it's the performance highlight of a fantastic career. Parks clearly gave this everything, leaves nothing behind and it really shows. Everything is there, pacing, dancing, singing, admonishing, shouting, extolling, and his use of gestures and body language are sublime. His opening sermon, brilliantly written, but expertly performed is a joy. The sermon itself is shot from numerous angles and cut to give wide shots of the church and congregation, from above and below Parks, close up and extreme close up. An often used shot is from below, looking up at Parks with the Trinity Church cross directly above his head. His opening sermon is dissected below:
Cooper's sermon and Michael Parks' performance opens as per picture opposite, a slightly obscured over the head shot of the sparse congregation enjoying a joyous session of community singing and soon the camera swings gently onto Cooper's smiling and happy face. This is reflected in his congregation all of whom are happy and joyous but more importantly in awe of their Pastor. The congregation is small but a tight knit band of multi generational families and numerous children all hanging on Pastor Cooper's every word of scripture. His Sermon opens with a continuation of his smiling and content appreciation of their singing, their togetherness as a Church and their recent picket of a funeral that gained national coverage. Striding gently across the stage the camera cuts between a genteel Cooper and his congregation and a real warmth and togetherness is evident, as is the continuing jokes and smiles and involvement of the children as one is seen to show their Popeye muscles and another, in a brilliant juxtaposition of the situation, mouths "I'm a good climber". The juxtaposition continues as the smiling and happy congregation continue even as a young man in a cage nearby shouts "Will somebody please let me the fuck out of here". "Satan" is silenced with an electric cattle prod and the Sermon commences in earnest.
"Welcome Family!" continues Cooper, now always shot with various Five Points Trinity Church crosses behind him and nearly always from below looking up and often in extreme close up. You are drawn to Michael Parks' eyes continually as he continues to stride gently but with purpose across the stage. Referring again to "scripture" and Noah's flood ridding the world and starting again, Cooper continues to engage with his congregation as he preaches about preparing for the future and of people practising carnal sins against God's wishes. A child responds with "Amen Grandpa" before Sara exclaims "Preach it Daddy" as Cooper, his smile and genteel approach now replaced with a snarl, continues to preach on "sins", homosexuals and tellingly "I fear God. You better believe I fear God". Varying between wide armed gestures and arms crossed indignation, Cooper builds his sermon to a frightening level of intensity, lamenting continuously the world's "wickedness" and sins as Sara again, looking to the Heavens and to her Father proclaims again "Give us some knowledge Daddy. Give us some knowledge".
Forever flicking between righteous anger and indignation, and singing, dancing and smiling with his congregation Cooper (a wider shot encompassing the entirety of the stage of the various Crosses behind him) circles a tall object draped in a white sheet, secured to one of the many crosses. He refers again constantly to homosexuality, wickedness and sins against God's wishes and "rampant fornication" before, his Sermon building to a crescendo, referring to paedophilia, pestilence, plagues and typhoons before tellingly reinforcing his view of an "End of Times". The white sheet behind him moves slightly and with various cuts we see the young man now awake in the cage and frightened out of his mind. "Cheyenne, you mind taking the children out of the lessons because it's gonna get grown up in here".
After walking with his children and grandchildren to the back of the church and closing the door behind them the camera follows Abin Cooper in a rolling shot back to the front of the stage. Now snarling at his adult congregation he removes the white sheet to reveal a tightly wrapped and ball gagged man secured tightly to a cross. The tension continues as Cooper's Sermon intensifies, listing the man's crimes and his punishment to follow. Sara, silently praying in the congregation and gently rocking back and forth, the camera cuts back to Cooper, pointing to Caleb and Mordechai as he strides back towards to his organ and signals the grisly death of this sinner with a final exclamation "For the wrath of God, is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness".
Taking a gun from inside a Bible, Caleb shoots the man on the top of the head and the camera immediately cuts to Sara, arms aloft in prayer, before Mordechai cuts the dead body loose, dropping it through a trap door. Here we see two further young men, scared out of their wits and bound together, awaiting their fate. The young man in the cage shouts to the other two bound in the cellar, all three unable to comprehend how and why they are in this grisly and utterly frightening situation. The caged man is dragged to the cross and bound tightly, wrapped and ball gagged as was the previous man exclaiming "I don't want to die". Cooper, now seated and calmly playing the organ responds "You're already dead, sinner". The Sermon continues.
To begin with, this is not a usual Kevin Smith film. Apart from very minor cameos there are no returning actors reprising previous roles or references to previous Smith films or Jay and Silent Bob. There is one major aside to this, the Director himself, so see if you can spot him! The other major difference is the camera work and editing (both by Smith), with the use of a Steadicam (or similar) for many scenes, up close scenes, chase sequences etc. This heightens the tension of the film and puts you as the viewer right in the middle of the film and is brilliantly and expertly done. There are numerous blurred or obscured shots (through a fence or wall or cage), deliberately and effectively so. The editing/cutting is also often between two opposing type images, giving a good versus bad, light versus dark effect, aptly demonstrated during Abin Cooper's initial sermon, cutting from the Pastor to the congregation, often children playing or mumbling about being "a good climber".
Another departure is the lack of a cinematic score which is replaced, but only very fleetingly but very effectively with a haunting almost subconscious hum and perceptible heartbeat in certain scenes, but apart from this excellent use, there is no further score. There is also a minimal soundtrack with the stand outs being Michael Parks singing Abin Cooper's religious songs on the organ. Regular collaborator and Director of Photography David Klein returns and deserves great credit, as does Cabot McMullen for Production Design. The Director himself deserves enormous credit for a number of reasons and certainly for getting his film, his vision and his picture made and distributed. It's a tour de force of film making and an incredible film and Kevin Smith also deserves credit for the editing, which is sublime and tight and propels this 88 minute film along perfectly.
A horror film? Another film on religion and dogma? Trying to avoid spoilers as best as I can, but Keenan (Goodman) is obviously reluctant to follow his Boss' order to confront the church compound (there's plenty of gunfire in the trailer so I guess you know there's some kind of attack!) and this reticence is surely a reference to the FBI/ATF failures at both Ruby Ridge and Waco in which the "authorities" were clearly over zealous and murdered numerous innocent people. Post 9-11, Patriot Act and the labelling of "domestic terrorists" and the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) are clearly themes too, as is the USA Constitution and especially Freedom of Speech and the right to bear arms. Writing this in January 2013, these themes are never more prevalent or as prescient than they are today. Highly criticised by industry critics. So what's new for a Kevin Smith film!
It's an 88 minute work of art, it truly is. But then again I'm decidedly biased but if Quentin Tarantino is quoted as "I fucking love this movie!" then what further recommendation do you need?
"You're a rapscallion of the highest order"
Tusk commences with the oft used movie disclaimer of "Based on Actual Events" however this is either an in joke or extremely loose interpretation as the film is based on a long form discussion between Director Smith and his Podcast producing partner Scott Mosier during Smodcast Episode 259, "The Walrus and The Carpenter". From this, the idea was born of creating a film on the premise they discuss and after their legion of fans voted #WalrusYes on Twitter, Smith wrote the film's screenplay, for a film that Smith himself would affectionately describe later in 2016 as "one of the most batshit movies ever made!". And boy it certainly is! Tusk sees successful podcast team "Wallace Bryton" (Justin Long) and "Teddy Craft" (Haley Joel Osment) broadcasting inane and satirical sideswipes on viral videos and news articles on their own Not-See Party Network, whereby they follow the ridiculous escapades of "The Kill Bill Kid" (Douglas Banks). Resolving to interview the viral sensation Wallace travels to Canada, however in the intervening time "The Kid" commits suicide leaving Wallace with time on his hands and no story to podcast, but he stumbles upon an intriguing letter in the toilet of a local bar, offering free accommodation and the teller of tall tales. Ripe for podcast material, Wallace now ventures into the unknown to meet the mysterious story teller, "Howard Howe".
Michael Parks' performance as Howard Howe is the film's true star attraction and sadly one of only a few redeeming features. Returning from his Oscar worthy turn in Smith's 2011 film Red State, Parks is incredible yet again, especially so in the film's first Act whereby the tales are indeed tall, of sailing into World War 2 on board a boat containing Ernest Hemingway or "Ernie" as he calls him, or of his search for the Siberian Great White Shark or the occasion a walrus, affectionately known as "Tusk" saved his life. All of Howe's tales are told eloquently, entertainingly and often without pause for breath as he journey's from story to story, totalling enchanting Wallace who noticeably never starts recording for the purposes of a podcast and all of this takes place in front of a welcoming log fire. The continuing scene between the two characters is the film's real high watermark and brilliantly realised by all concerned, both Parks and Long's performances are well executed and beautifully captured by Smith. However, from hereon in the film takes a sharp about turn into extreme horror with nods towards Silence of the Lambs and particularly Human Centipede as Howe has far more in store for his guest than simply regaling him with the tall tales of his life!
With a relatively small cast, there are minor cameo roles for Genesis Rodriguez as Wallace's girlfriend "Ally Leon", Ralph Garman is awkwardly funny in his role of local "Detective" and both Smith's wife and daughter appear in minor roles, with his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith's role a forerunner of the role she would play in 2016's Yoga Hosers. Far and away the most bizarre cameo (and very much in keeping with the film) is Johnny Depp as Canadian Homicide Detective "Guy Lapointe". Cross eyed and shabbily dressed, it falls to Detective Lapointe to solve this grisly mystery but with a word or two of warning:
I rather liked Tusk but I won't be in a hurry to see it again any time soon!
Yoga Hosers (2016)
"I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
Referring to his debut film with the above quote pleased this Kevin Smith fan no end. However the rest of this film failed to raise more than an occasional smile from me. During the 88 minute run time I deftly failed to make any more substantial notes from which to write even a semi coherent review and would refer you dear reader to the Doyen of film criticism for his review below:
Oh Kevin Smith! I adore your podcasts, your books, your independent spirit and your singular spirited verve on life. I adore Dogma to ridiculous lengths and given 90 spare minutes in which to watch a film on repeat it will always be filled with your incredible, Oscar worthy feat that is Red State. I also hope that should you one day fall across this blog you'll see that I adore so many more of your films and that my loving appreciation of your films is utterly genuine. I will watch Yoga Hosers again one day and maybe update this blurb with a more detailed review. Maybe!