Sunday 29 January 2012

Double Bill Mini Musings: Catching Up on 2011...

Red State:
I've been hearing about this movie for absolutely sodding ages - particularly as I'm a frequent and consistent listener to numerous podcasts featured on Kevin Smith's "SModcast Network" (and as such I was subject to a few spoilers over the last year-or-more). Indeed, I had got to the point that I was utterly sick of listening to yet another all-too-familiar 45 minute rant about the state of modern movie advertising, that I'd just switch off entirely ... needless to say I was damned ready to see the movie already.

I've also heard very mixed things about the flick - some love it, some hate it, and some whinge specifically about the ending for not 'going the whole Dogma hog' - but considering Red State is a realist horror film, such flights of fantasy wouldn't fit in too well with the overall tone, which feels terrifyingly close to reality at times.

Another thing that some haters of the flick didn't like was the constant shifting of tone, genre, and focus - which was very much intended by Smith - and I can understand how it could wrong-foot some, and how it can mean that some characters remain a bit underdeveloped over the extremely efficient 85 minute running time ... but nevertheless I really dug it.

I dug it so much in fact that I wanted to watch it again straight away - surely a very good sign (I had the same reaction to Clerks II, come to think of it) - although I'm specifically starving myself of it for a little while before I re-view it.

Ranging from teen sex comedy one minute, to Wrath-of-God preaching the next, to Waco-esque shoot-out after that, pretty much nobody in the cast is safe ... and boy, do some of them go in extremely chilling ways. Indeed, the fear is so palpable on many of the victim's faces that a chill genuinely tears up your spine and dances across the base of your neck; seeing one smut-talking teen reduced to a dribbling wreck pleading that he just wants his mother packed a surprising punch. The film's 'Five Point Chuch' - led by a Phelps-to-the-most-extreme patriarch - preach such seething hatred that it makes you sit most uncomfortably in your chair, all-the-more-so because Michael Parks' performance is simultaneously disarming and utterly enrapturing. Suffice to say the man owns the entire film, with a fantastic performance that turns what could have easily become a pantomime villain, into a remarkably fearsome fun-time fanatic. As he beams with joy at the Popeye impression of one his youngest followers, you can't help but grin from ear-to-ear, and therein lies the excellence of Parks' performance: he constantly disturbs your balance.

Moving on, this is most definitely unlike any other Kevin Smith film to date - returning to his Indie roots for the production and distribution (albeit with the connections and sway of a long-time player with a loyal, long-established fan base), Smith's film displays a sense of vibrant flair which he hadn't previously explored. Using the Red Camera system, the film takes on a rampaging sense of immediacy, while looking utterly gorgeous and endlessly crisp on Blu-Ray.

One problem though - and it's the extra features on the Blu-Ray - whoever encoded them did a piss poor job. Every single one of them is in letterbox (so the image is surrounded on all sides by black on a widescreen TV), and whatever settings were used for encoding have rendered the extras subject to an annoying amount of interlacing and even strange image ghosting at times. They're not unwatchable by any means, but considering the sheer high quality of the main feature's presentation, it's unfortunate that the extras haven't been given the same care when being ported over to the disc. I'm not sure if this is only a problem with the Region B disc or not.

Despite receiving a few spoilers along the way from numerous podcasts on Smith's network, there were still a few good shocks left in it for me. Furthermore, good lord, there are countless fantastic performances throughout. Great character actors of various levels of repute populate the cast so that it's fit-to-bursting - there's always somebody new to see, and another dark twist to be taken in the ever-changing plot. While there are occasional pacing issues (which could conceivably worsen if you're one who disagrees with the ever-shifting focus of the script), I really enjoyed the flick - it's ruddy good to finally see it, but in my view it's also Smith's most interesting film since Dogma and his most enjoyable since Clerks II.

Nicolas Winding Refn (who has previously given us the stonkingly stylish Bronson) gives us the most stylish and achingly cool movie of 2011. Some didn't like it - no doubt because the title could prove a bit misleading (and the marketing sold it the wrong way) - it's not so much about driving, as it is the existentialism surrounding Ryan Gosling's grippingly-performed stuntman ... but I absolutely loved it.

The opening getaway car sequence (seen entirely from the passenger seat) is nail-bitingly, hold-your-breath tense, exhibiting the sort of patience, skill, and shark-like determination that sums up the character of Gosling's 'Driver'. A man who spends most of the movie not saying an awful lot - indeed, as was the aim of the filmmakers, he is akin to the lone wolf American hero who uses stoicism and skilled use of extreme violence to preserve innocence. Speaking of innocence, the focus of that is Carey Mulligan's mother Irene (whose jailbird husband gets the Driver into an awful lot of trouble with some gangsters and a bag full of money). The relationship between Gosling and Mulligan's characters is sweet and chaste - it truly is an examination of love as an innocent and precious thing, where entwined fingers on a gear stick, and one kiss before an eruption of shocking violence prove to be far more potent than getting your kit off and going all the way.

Speaking of violence, it's no Rambo, but on the other hand it does feature moments of stunningly graphic violence - no doubt because the beauty of the build-up is so involving. Finally, on the issue of style - this film has it in spades. From the titles in pink cursive, to the lush and twinkling neon of the streets at night (a highlight of the superbly composed cinematography), and to the exceedingly cool 1980s soundtrack, it's nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful. One part B-Movie with an A-Movie look, one part masterclass in cool, and one part thrill ride; if I had seen this in 2011 it would have most definitely been on my Top Ten list of that year.

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