Red State (May Contain Spoilers)

Already being a huge fan of Kevin Smith might have helped with this, but I’ve known about this film being made for quite a while now. In fact, rumours of this film started circulating shortly after Zack and Miri Make A Porno came out in 2008, but back then it was rumoured that Red State was going to be a horror film about zombies set in New Jersey. The resulting film actually something of a whole different breed of horror, but still just as scary!

Red State starts out with Smith’s usual style of comedy and focuses on three friends in high school who find a website advertising people who want to have cheap, one night sex with anyone. Accepting an offer of a four-way, the friends go to meet the woman who made the offer only to find it is a trap set up by a group of religious fundamentalists from the radical 5 Points Church. When they wake up, they find out that the church led by head preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) have a much more sinister agenda and are ruthlessly kidnapping and killing people they personally deem to be “sinners”. After local authorities and federal agents get involved, headed by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), a shoot-out starts up and there’s a deadly choice for the people involved  – stay and be killed by fanatics, or try to escape and risk being shot in the process.

I’ve sort of summed up the premise of this film as “what if the Westborough Baptist Church had guns?” (if you don’t know who they are, you can look them up – they’re not hard to find!) since the fundamentalists of the 5 Points Church in Red State are loosely based around the famous protests of the Westborough Baptist Church who, as it happens, get mentioned at one point in the script and planned to protest the release of this film! So, clearly, Red State has had its fair share of background research gone into it much like Dogma did.

Perhaps what made Red State so interesting for me was that it was so entirely different from Kevin Smith’s usual brand of film that there’s almost no trace of the same director from Jersey Girl or Zack And Miri. And with the roots of this film coming from real life religious followers, it makes Red State all that more scary and slightly horrifying – perhaps making it the kind of horror film Smith intended to make all along.

There are a lot of mixed messages throughout Red State – from the fears of religious fundamentalists to whether the American authorities operate in unexpected and unorthodox ways as a means to an end – as there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns. What perhaps makes Red State a bit of a mould-breaker is that you realise about half-way in that unlike other horror films that this film resembles at some points (go see Texas Chainsaw Massacre), anything can happen to anyone at any point. So, no one is safe. But, that being said, you also realise that you’re not sure who to side with at certain points – whether some of the people in the church aren’t that bad and have just been lead into a situation they didn’t want or whether the authorities are taking things too far in order to save themselves from media coverage. But perhaps that’s the point of Red State from the get-go, that you’re constantly questioning the basic morals of each character and the ways in which they express them. Even at the end, it begins to head down such an unexpected path you find yourself thinking “surely not” at the prospect that the gun-toting God Squad could actually have been right all along.

While there are a couple of extended conversational scenes indulging Smith’s writing side, such as the 10 minutes + scene of Michael Parks preaching to his church or John Goodman talking to his bosses in the aftermath there are some brilliant performances throughout Red State, not to mention Michael Parks who delves so deep into his own character you’d be forgiven for thinking Smith had employed a preacher to do the role, and Kerry Bishé as the grand-daughter to Abin Cooper who tries to do the right thing in the end. While it’s great to see John Goodman in a compelling role again (and looking a lot thinner as well), it’s even better to see these two actors, both fresh and experienced, making their roles so believable in this film.

The fact that Kevin Smith personally distributed and marketed Red State through his podcasting network SModcast and SModcast Internet Radio in the US is probably a testament to how much he believes in this film he’s created, and the fact that he only plans to do one more film before finishing filmmaking for good has become more of a shame than it was before. Red State gets 7 out of 10 for being interesting and gory and a complete change of pace for Kevin Smith all at the same time.

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The Green Hornet (Contains Spoilers)

What seems to be a wave of “non-hero” films that got started by Kick-Ass has spat out a few no-hitters (we’re looking at you Defendor), but out of this has come the re-imagining of a classic radio series-come-TV show The Green Hornet. Originally, The Green Hornet radio show was a tie-in to The Lone Ranger (Britt Reid is his grandnephew) but for an audience that wanted someone on a more modern basis as the hero. Eventually, The Green Hornet became a TV show which saw Bruce Lee as Kato in one of his earlier English language roles. Since that point, The Green Hornet has been more associated with the like of the Adam West Batman than anything more legitimate.

But Michel Gondry, a questionable choice in director considering he’s better known for things like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, has managed to breathe new life into the green-clad vigilante and his martial art’s expert sidekick and create something fresh. Originally, Kevin Smith was asked to direct this ask it was thought that he would be able to do justice to a film that would sit nicely amongst other comic book-type movies, but he declined as he didn’t want to direct an action movie because of the long hours spent choreographing sequences and then reshooting them time and time again. He even stated that his version of The Green Hornet would be him and Kato hanging out by the Black Beauty and then going off-screen to beat up bad guys every so often. Luckily, Michel Gondry’s version has a bit more action than that, and that’s what made this version so enjoyable, and with less pot jokes, and Kevin Smith’s script is now a comic series of The Green Hornet.

The idea behind The Green Hornet is that Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the son of a newspaper owner who dies and leaves him his legacy. Being a known party animal, Britt decides it’s time to step up and do something memorable and help people. With his dad’s mechanic Kato, they set out to make a difference by being heroes posing as bad guys in order to infiltrate gangs and stop them from the inside, whilst Britt uses the newspaper to make a name for his alter-ego. It’s an original motive behind the normal reasoning for becoming a hero, but it got pulled off pretty well. A few geeky references are made in The Green Hornet, one notably being in Kato’s sketchbook there is a page of Bruce Lee sketches, paying tribute to Lee as the original Kato, and James Franco makes an appearance at the start of the film after appearing with Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express.

Generally, I thought The Green Hornet was an enjoyable film – it wasn’t amazingly hilarious, it wasn’t a great hero movie either, but the thing that people don’t get is that The Green Hornet never was any of these anyway! It’s a bit fitting that its remembered more along the lines of the original Adam West Batman because that’s how it was originally written – semi-serious but generally just enjoyable. And that’s exactly what this version does too. Essentially, Seth Rogen is doing the kind of comedy he does best, but mixing it in with being a masked vigilante and kicking some ass at the same time.  Jay Chou is really great as Kato and comes very close to upstaging Rogen as one of the better characters of the film, not just because of his martial arts scenes but also because of his delivery of some one-liners. I think Cameron Diaz was pinned on a little to this movie for some star recognition as she didn’t add that much to the plot, but Christoph Waltz did a good job as mob boss Chudnofsky, who gets one of the best deaths of the film with two wood planks to the face! Of course, the real star of the movie was always going to be the Black Beauty, Britt Reid’s super car with all kinds of gadgets and weapons which is responsible for most of the action scenes!

One thing I wasn’t so happy with was the fact that someone felt it was necessary to pin the 3D movie tag to this film and jump on the 3D bandwagon, even though there was barely any 3D moments during the film. There were plenty of opportunities for some, but in actual fact the transfer to 3D was a last minute decision and as such there wasn’t that much use of it. Apart from that, The Green Hornet was an enjoyably funny film that had just as much action thrown into the mix too, and only suffered very minimally from the “Take-away Film” syndrome (i.e., you enjoy it while you’re watching it, but have forgotten about it 2 hours later), which means it wasn’t a throw-away effort.

Perhaps the best description of this film is a superhero version of Pineapple Express with the same kind of humour and action, but replacing the pot jokes with Black Beauty scenes! So, on that note, I’m giving The Green Hornet 6 out of 10 for enjoyment, but it loses points  for its lack of 3D despite its advertising.

Fanboys – DVD Review

I first heard about this film back in 2006 when I saw a trailer for it on a DVD, and since that point Fanboys disappeared off the map. Years later, it comes back into circulation after having a limited release but cult success over in the States in 2009 and was gradually making its way over to the UK shores. However, after not even getting the cinematic release it was expected to, Fanboys went straight to DVD and has only just gotten its release on this format, thus once again likely disappearing off the map. And this truly is a shame!

Fanboys tells the story of four friends who get reunited with each other on Halloween 1998 – three years after they graduated and went their separate ways. Whilst three of them stuck together and stayed true to their geek roots, Eric (Sam Huntington) went off and joined his father to become a car salesman. But once they meet up again, Eric gets informed that his best friend Linus (Christopher Marquette) is suffering from terminal cancer and only has a few months to live. Along with fellow friends Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel), a shared love of all things Star Wars and a dream of travelling across the country to steal an early cut of Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, they boldly go where – sorry – they travel to a state far, far away to break into Skywalker Ranch six months ahead of the release date of the film.

Fanboys is fantastic for many reasons. Firstly, although this is the same kind of plot that has been done a million times by films like Road Trip, Sex Drive, American Pie and any other teen-demographic travelling buddy movie you care to think of, there is genuinely brilliant writing that makes Fanboys stand out from the rest. The humour is in a total class of its own as it doesn’t succumb to the old trap of using crude humour and sex jokes to get their humour across (ok, so there’s perhaps one or two like that, but even then it’s really more implied). Instead, director and creator Kyle Newman knew exactly what kind of people this film would appeal to, and so instead took an entirely different take on the road trip story and made it entirely for fans of all things Sci-Fi.

The characters that make up the main cast if Fanboys are part of the overall humour that makes the film what it is. Kristen Bell makes a brilliant addition to the cast as Zoe, the punk girl who joins in with the guys, gets all the comic references and is pretty hot to boot. But then, that’s partly to do with the fact that she’s Kristen Bell… Jay Baruchel does the tall, lanky geek act really well (and surprised me when he played a more jerk-like character in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, another good film that I would recommend), and is the embodiment of what anyone would believe makes a “Star Wars geek”. Dan Fogler’s “Hutch”, however, is almost the exact opposite and is easily the best character out of the bunch as his is the character that says what other people are thinking. He IS the Han Solo that steals the show, and gets some of the best lines of the movie because of it!

The most original thing about the writing of Fanboys is the in-jokes and references, and the way they are sometimes so subtly delivered. There may be huge Star Wars references throughout the film, but there are also lots of little ones that you would otherwise miss if you weren’t listening properly. It’s every so often, in a single line perfectly placed in the scene so that it just blends into the dialogue like when Windows says “God, it’s been Parsecs” (Man-points to anyone who understands that joke!). It’s in Hutch’s van that has “hyperspace” that doesn’t work at first, and the way he has to hit the roof to make the van work. It’s the fact that Seth Rogen turns up as multiple characters, one of which is a leader of Star Trek fans that claims “it’s not ‘Trekkies’ it’s ‘Trekkers’” before he calls Han Solo a bitch and starts a war between Trek-Fans and Wars-Fans. Elements like these are what make up the true experience of Fanboys – because the big joke is that obviously, if you get these kinds of jokes, you ARE a fanboy yourself and proud of it!

Another aspect of Fanboys that will bring a smile to the faces of all members of the Rebel Alliance watching it is the huge amount of amazing cameos that Kyle Newman managed to gather together. Billy Dee Williams (aka Lando Calrissian) and Carrie Fisher (aka Princess Leia, for anyone out there that hasn’t seen Star Wars… shame on you…) turn up in unlikely roles as a court Judge and a Doctor respectively, William Shatner ironically enough turns up as the gangs secret informant “Scruffy Nerfherder”, Ray Park (Darth Maul) plays a baton-wielding security guard, even famous cult film director Kevin Smith has a cameo at one part whoring out Jason “Jay” Mews’ mouth for money!

However, for all its spoofs, one-liners and immensely hilarious Star Wars references, there is a sentimental side to Fanboys. The reason they are all doing this is so that they can get their friend Linus to see Episode 1 before he passes on without it being released. The point towards the end when you finally remember that this has all been for him is genuinely sentimental and gives Fanboys that little extra third-dimension it needs to round it off into a film that has every angle it needs totally wrapped up.

Of course, the biggest joke of all comes at the end, in the very last line of the whole film…

So why is Fanboys so awesome, you might be asking? It’s not just the critical yet witty references to one of the biggest franchises in cinema, but it’s more of that you know you’re not just watching another teen road movie. You’re watching something made BY Star Wars fans, FOR Star Wars fans. Jay Baruchel himself described the film as “a love letter to George Lucas”, and it’s easy to see how this is true. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s got great characters that you’d probably want to be friends with in real life, and is generally a hugely fun experience.

I thoroughly recommend Fanboys as a generally good comedy, but it’s a complete and total must-see for anyone who’s ever dreamt of owning a real Lightsabre!

LISTED Film Previews – April ’10

The first entry of the year with a film I am genuinely so incredibly excited over seeing, you wouldn’t believe it! However, I’m currently in an incredibly bad mood as its looking like my chances of seeing Kick-Ass in the cinema are slowly dwindling due to the difference in release dates between the UK and the US not co-operating with the time at which I have to travel home. Regardless, here’s the preview of it anyway. Maybe SOMEone will get to see it and tell me what its like…:

KICK-ASS (15) (Dir. Matthew Vaughn)

Ever wondered what would really happen to a masked hero? Based on the hugely popular and insanely violent comic books by Mark Millar, Kick-Ass follows teenage fanboy Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who despite not having any superpowers is determined to become a hero named Kick-Ass. And promptly gets beaten repeatedly to a pulp in the process – that is, until he meets like minded father and daughter duo Big Daddy (played by Nicholas Cage) and the ultra-violent, foul-mouthed Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). Also starring Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka “McLovin” from Superbad), this could easily become an insanely huge cult comedy hit of the year, and has already generated a lot of excitement amongst those already familiar with the content of the graphic novels. Expect a lot of talk about this film! Released 2nd April.

REMEMBER ME (12) (Dir. Allen Coulter)

Robert Pattinson takes the lead in another romantic drama, but this time dropping his usual vampire role for a grittier, more real-world persona. Tyler (Pattinson) searches for meaning in life when his parents split after his brother commits suicide. He then falls for Ally (played by Emilie de Ravin), a kindred spirit who lives every day to its fullest after witnessing her mother’s murder. Despite its obvious attraction to any Twilight fans, Remember Me looks like it could be a genuinely moving drama that will tug all the right heartstrings for anyone who likes a proper romance. Released 2nd April.

THE LAST SONG (PG) (Dir. Julie Anne Robinson)

Finally seeing Miley Cyrus drop her kind of irritating Hannah Montana role could actually validate her status as a serious actress/singer. The Last Song sees her play rebellious young girl Ronnie, who is sent to live with her estranged father who abandoned her family. While they learn to reconnect through their shared love of music, she also falls in love with Will (Liam Hemsworth) at the same time. The director has also had a lot of success with TV shows such as Pushing Daisies, and this adaptation from Nick Sparks’ novel (who also did the script) could be the right kind of film debut. All that matters is whether Miss Cyrus really can play any other role than her Disney persona – here’s hoping that she can! Released 2nd April.

COP OUT (15) (Dir. Kevin Smith)

For the first time directing someone else’s screenplay, Kevin Smith (creator of Clerks, Dogma and Zack and Miri) directs this comedy about a veteran cop (Bruce Willis) whose rare baseball card gets stolen, and so he brings in his partner (Tracey Morgan) to help track down the memorabilia obsessed gangster who stole it. Already getting great feedback from the US, and after popular stories from the set between Smith and Willis, Cop Out looks like it could retain its popularity when it makes its way over to the UK. Definitely check it out if you’re already a fan of Smith and his other films, but since he’s not responsible for the script this time don’t expect his usual kind of humour or in-jokes. Released 16th April.

As published in Listed Magazine Issue 26 and on www.listedmagazine.com