Monday, March 14, 2011

RED STATE SATURDAY with Reel Rhino, The Kid, and Papa


I, in my adventures in filmgoing, enjoyed a major installment on Saturday night in my ongoing tale.  No, it wasn't my 1000th flick, which is very near on the was instead a fantastic night of film with a few of my best film going buddies!

Myself, along with fellow film travelers THE KID IN THE HELMET and PAPA SCHMER, rallied for some early evening Barbeque at hands-down, my favorite joint in all of KANSAS CITY: JACK'S STACK FREIGHT HOUSE.  This place rocks, and it was the only place in town that could adequately satiate our pre-film hunger.  It was good to meet you, Martin City Mayor...your burnt end/cole slaw mix was glorious and I hope to see you again soon.

Our destination on this fine night in Kansas City, was not the Big 12 Tournament, that was raging a few blocks away at the shimmering Sprint Center...while I could have cared less as to who won, my fellow travelers both bleed Mizzou Black and Gold, so KU's taking of the title certainly would damper the weekend, but only in the slightest.  If you're keeping score, I could careless who wins any game, unless my Maryland Terrapins are in the house.

RED STATE, the latest offering from my favorite fellow fat man KEVIN SMITH (I say this with love, as I tip the scales at just under 400 lbs myself), stopped at KANSAS CITY'S MIDLAND THEATER.  The doors opened at 7:00pm and the show started at 8:00...okay, fashionably late at 8:15pm, but it only helped add to the tension.

TENSION?  Tension, you say?  Yes, there was a fair bit.  You see RED STATE is based loosely on the Topeka-based "church," Westboro Baptist Church, or the WBC.  Have you seen the signs that read: "God Hates Fags" and "God Loves Dead Soldiers"...that's them.  

Smith and Ingram
Smith's friend Malcolm Ingram, who is proudly a bear (read: large gay man), directed a fantastic documentary in SMALL TOWN GAY BAR, within which he interviewed WBC head Fred Phelps Sr.  While only a few minutes of the footage was used in the picture, Smith had a chance to see all of the nearly 1 hour of footage that Ingram captured while talking to the church's leader.  This footage may have served as the initial inspiration for the film, but part of what helped propel Smith forward and actually make the movie was his March 2010 Q and A visit to the City of Fountains, yep Kansas City.  The WBC was out in full force and in addition to their standard lines of bull, they developed the opinion that the friendly filmmaker was in fact a...get ready for this...a "gay enabler."

Small Town Gay Bar

If he had been sitting on the concept for Red State, he would sit no longer...Red State was to become a reality.

The casting announcement for the oh so important role of "Father," the very character that was inspired by the senior Phelps, came at Comic Con 2010.  Legendary character actor, Michael Parks, perhaps most well known for playing the LAW in several Quintin Tarantino films, would become, and I mean BECOME, the Father.

The role was one that Smith at one point thought his old reliable, George Carlin, could have played as well.  He clarified on Saturday that since its first inception, he always imagined Michael Parks in the part.  He was inspired and in awe of Parks since he was introduced to him in Robert Rodriguez's DUSK TIL DAWN.  While Carlin was at one time considered, the movie was shelved, and sadly, Carlin died.

So Papa, Kid, and Reel Rhino were out in full force...we drank a pre-show cocktail at the AMC Mainstreet Theater (see also one of my previous posts).  We swapped tales of our first memory of the movies at the theater.  Papa Schmer's was Diamonds are Forever, Kid's was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and mine Return of the Jedi, at the ripe ol' age of 7, with my mom and my sister.  We talked of our least favorite flicks, but for we three, that is a bit harder to finger as we all fall into the exceptionally easy to please category when it comes to our butts in theater seats (THE LAST AIRBENDER was my pick...and I am an M NIGHT apologist!  I have learned that you can only apologize so much!).

At around 7:00pm, we headed north for the MIDLAND.  We wanted to catch some of the pre-show action, and boy were we not disappointed.  The WBC took position on the east side of Main, directly across from the main entrance to the Midland.  The counter-protest, encouraged by Smith himself, was set along the sidewalk directly outside the theater.

Some of these photos should give you an idea about the shenanigans, and my apologies for the low quality pictures...I only had my cell phone camera with me, as the Midland prohibited any recording devices, cameras included. I will be shopping for a cell with a better cam soon, I can promise you that.

Megan committed, she holds four signs. Yay!
I accused this guy of winning the Kevin Smith look-a-like
This one was Kevin's favorite, visiting his Clerkian roots.
Megan Phelps-Roper is perhaps the Darth Vader to Smith's Luke Skywalker.  The two have engaged in Twitter battle and this fateful night in Kansas City appeared as though it may have been the Death Star showdown we we all waiting for.

Smith was so kind to comp the Phelps clan 15 tickets.  As Kevin put it...apparently God doesn't hate charity.  They actually came to the showing, much to the surprise of all, but their seeing the movie be damned, we were all waiting for the fireworks that were to follow, as Megan had agreed to come onto the stage to participate in the Q and A.  Smith acknowledged this before the screening began, and only asked that we honor their freedom of speech and respect them as guests of the Smodcast nation when they did finally hit the stage.  Smith went so far as to acknowledge the importance of their recent Supreme Court victory that will allow them to continue to protest at the funerals of American soldiers.


I like freedom of speech and I respect the freedom of speech, religion, sexual orientation, and any of the liberties that the Constitution grants us as occupants of the United States.  But when the rights granted us as Americans treads so deeply and hurtfully at the expense of other Americans, is that right?  Apparently, eight of nine Supreme Court Justices think so.  Maybe it was the right call, but it sure doesn't feel very good.

~~~~~~~~RED STATE~~~~~~~~~

RED STATE is a landmark film for a number of reasons, but perhaps mostly due to the finance and distribution route that Smith choose for this effort.  I was able to see this movie because Smith "bought" the rights from himself at a single-bidder auction following its premiere at Utah's SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL.  (Sadly, KIMBALIANO was not able to attend that screening.)  Smith decided he was "taking it back" (see also: Clerks 2) and would hit the road with Red State, like in the good old days, or something of what is done with the Afterdark Horrorfest these days.  What does Reel Rhino say?  Genius, pur genius.

In addition to self-release a la the road show, the film will get an October wide-release.  The number of screens it hits in October will be affected, it appears, in part by the success of the road shows and also the amount raised in merchandising at the shows, at the Smodcast site, and Smith's View Askew site.

As it stands right now, the advertising for this film has been web-based, twitter-centric, and word of mouth only.  Smith did interviews on the radio stations, so at least he is effecting local word of mouth by hitting the airwaves as well as the net.  I am curious to see the Prints and Advertising budget (if any) the wide-release brings in October.

This film is also a landmark in timing.  Most of the casting announcements came out over Summer 2010, with a few roles filled as late as September 2010.  This film was screened at Sundance in January.  I am going to imagine a number of sleepless nights in the Smith household, and several more where Smith woke up drooling on the Avid console, mumbling some kind of an apology to Pete (see also: DOGMA).

When you write, direct, and edit your own film, you can roll it out as quickly or slowly as you like.

Essentially two months after shooting wrapped on this film, he had a first cut that was audience ready.  Since that first screening, Smith has revisited the cutting room and I would imagine that what we see in theaters in October is the sum total of all of the experiences of the road show, rolled into a masterful cut.  Really, its kind of brilliant.  Normal, focus group showings are comped tix for the audience as long as you fill out this questionnaire.  Smith got them (and me) to pay between $50 and $80 beans for a ticket to the event.  And, he has all the questionnaire feedback he wants on Twitter, Facebook, and the Smod boards!  I say again...he is an effing GENIUS!  Kevin, my only request as I hope we see this more often, is that the ticket prices come down...between $20 and $50 would be much more reasonable for an event.  $50 - $80 was too much.  I was 5th row, dead center and I'd of paid more for such great seats to an event like this.  But in times like these, I hate that folks had to pass because they just didn't have the dough.

RED STATE follows the hijinx of THE FAMILY, a religious sect that has many shared beliefs exhibited by the WBC, but taken to extreme with murder and mayhem also on the menu.  What I saw as the major parallel between the WBC and the sect featured in Red State, is that both groups seem to have a strong distaste (or HATE) for anything and everyone who isn't them.

Pastor Abin Cooper is the leader of this band of religious fanatics, and his daughter Sarah (recent Academy Award winner Melissa Leo) is a church elder.  Sarah's husband Caleb is played by Director Smith's HOLLYWOOD BABBLE-ON sidekick, Ralph Garman.  Garman is a comedian, radio personality, and now movie-star and while his words are few, it was good to see him on screen.  Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, wife to Kevin, is also a baddie in the flick, playing Ester one of the congragation's loyal subjects.

The two most memorable roles from this film were the portrayal of the town sheriff, by Stephen Root, and the ATF Field Office Commander, by John Goodman.  What about Michael Parks' Cooper, you say?  His role defied the term memorable to the level of being iconic.  Abin Cooper as a character in this film, and Michael Parks' portrayal of him is nothing short of iconic.  But for every memorable moment with Parks, there was an near equally powerful moment by John Goodman.  I was absolutely floored by Goodman's performance and perhaps it struck me so starkly when compared to PArks because I was used to Parks being great and his fantastic delivery was no surprise to me.  For Goodman, I think this is his finest role to date.  And as for Stephen Root, it wasn't perfection or delivery that made Root's Sheriff Wynan so good, it was the character and his part in all of this that makes him so memorable. 

A spoiler-free description in a nutshell for the movie is this: three city boys head off to the country, looking for a little bit o' sexual escapade.  They get wrangled into some trouble with the aforementioned religious sect and ultimately law enforcement is drawn in to investigate.  Calamity ensues.
This movie was fun to watch with tense moments interlaced with well-delivered one-liners and longer monologues written with grace and finesse that Smith's earlier works haven't offered him as many opportunities to write.  This is an adult movie with adult language (I mean tone, not swearing you infant!) - Smith shows us he can write for the big kids as well as some of the best dick, fart, and weed jokes ever written. 

There were some great steady-cam, Bourne-Identity like running around action shots.  For every bit of action, there was a bit of humor, some intentional, some were just of the uncomfortable as hell moments, so-I-will-laugh variety.  My only complaint goes towards some of the shots of the sect members involved in a bit of gun play at a couple of spots point in the film.  For a few scenes, the shots are limited to close-ups of their upper torsos, firing their weapons.  I thought these static shots took away, oh so slightly, from the other action sequences that were shot so well.  Perhaps his goal hear was to show the fortitude of their position as matching that of their will?  Whatever the goal, I thought these few scenes could have been shot more dynamically, but I must say that on a $5 million budget, I offer some forgiveness because over all, Smith took $5 million and made it look like $25 million, easily.

The Reel Rhino is clearly a big fan of Kevin Smith.  I give RED STATE a very strong 5 of 5 horns and offer to the Director a congratulations.  Not only have you done something different than you have in the past, but you did it right  See this movie!  If it is coming to your town or anywhere close, go see the show.  The movie alone will be worth the trip, but the subsequent Q and A will definitely make it worth it!

~~~~~~~~THE Q and A~~~~~~~~~

We learned at the outset of the post flick Q and A that 15 minutes into the film, the Phelps clan left the theater, stopping only to give a gift to the Director, a picket sign that read: "RED STATE FAGS."  If the text and message weren't so deplorable, you could almost call the banter between Smith and the Phelps as cute.  Megan Phelps-Roper's parting words to Smith...this is filthy, we can't stay for this.  And with that, the Phelps/Smith aka Vader/Skywalker duel would not come to be.  (DON'T WORRY KEVIN, I don't think Megan Phelps is your father. Maybe a Kirk/Khan reference would have been better?  Frodo and Smeagel?  Sorry...I didn't mean to bring the LOTR into this!!)

The Q and A was it's own glorious part of this night...instead of getting that she-devil in Megan, we got an hour of just Kevin, which is always a good thing; and a half-hour of "The Boy (and Girl) Who Lived."  (See also: Harry Potter).  

During the Q and A, Josh Phelps-Roper, son of Shirley Phelps-Roper (spawn of Fred Sr.) and his cousin, Libby Phelps (granddaughter to Fred Sr.), both came onto the stage with Kevin to talk about the family...with a twist.

Josh and Libby were both defectors from the WBC...they wanted out and broke free of the twisted views they had lived their whole life.  No easy task when you figure it meant leaving their kin behind to foray into the big bad world on their own.  A feeling Josh related to the feeling of lonesomeness that many in the gay community may have endured if they have ever been shunned by family and friends in their lives. 

Josh also recalled one time in his teen years being told they were out stop evil doers and seeing the people that they were hurting found it hard to distinguish between his own kind and the supposed evil doers of the world.  I would imagine it was about that time that he started hatching his escape plan.

Hearing their stories was a great cap to the evening.  Too bad the WBC didn't stick around.  Josh and Libby both felt they would be steaming as they lost their time to spread the word.  Publicity whores is a term I remember hearing.  It's sad when all you care about is screaming the message and don't take the time to listen to what your yelling. 

At around 11:30pm, the plug was pulled, and Kevin said his good-nights.  Sadly, we left, having spent a great night with as affiable a personality as there may be.

Side note...Kevin has always joked how Megan is kinda cute.  A point that is certainly debatable, but that aside...He also made a point to mention that Libby is much cuter...agreed Mr. Smith, agreed.  And I don't know at what exact point the Phelps cut out, but Megan's ego could have been massaged a bit if she would have caught Kerry Biche's Cheyenne, the filmic rendering of Megan Phelps-Roper.  Biche is both a talented actress and a beautiful woman...I will be looking for her more in the future.  Perhaps Kevin, she could play a role in Hit Somebody?

Kevin Smith, sir, you are a gentleman and a poet.  Please know that I support your decision to make HIT SOMEBODY your last film, but it gives me great joy to know that you will always be a part of the zeitgeist of entertainment.  Long live SMODCAST and the VIEW ASKEW worlds and whatever they may become.  Thanks for a great night.  Both The Kid and Papa Schmer agreed....
Until later, Reel Rhino is outta here!

No comments:

Post a Comment