SAVE YOURSELF from “Red State”

17 01 2013

Red State

Two years ago, one of the hottest properties at Sundance was Kevin Smith’s “Red State.”  The narrative unfolded as usual: high-profile premiere, studios deliberate buying it, bidding war commences.  Afterwards, however, Smith sold the movie to himself … for $20 causing a big hubbub and quite a few eye-rolls and head-shakes.

It was an attempt to make a statement on how backwards the studios’ distribution systems really are and how hard it is for filmmakers to tell the story they want.  But honestly, could there have been a worse movie for anyone to make that claim with?  If the studios keep all movies like “Red State” from getting made or distributed, you might not be too upset about that after actually watching the film itself.

It’s an absolutely dreadful movie that has no class or restraint.  Smith critiques the Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious anti-gay protestors led by Fred Phelps, as a bunch of backwards ignoramuses – as if the rest of the world didn’t already know that.  Perhaps a parody or a spoof would have been the more appropriate vehicle.  Though I’ve never seen “Clerks” or any of Smith’s other films, I’ve heard he’s quite the humorist.

This is the kind of unintentional humor that usually plagues bad movies such as these.  I’m sure some of it might have been planned, in which case Smith proved himself to be a poor imitator of Quentin Tarantino’s darkly comedic talents.  I think he probably wishes “Red State” was something like “Inglourious Basterds” with gratuitous violence aplenty dealt out to the hated villains.

And I suppose it’s a fairly vile turn from Michael Parks as the Fred Phelps surrogate, but it’s not like I got any satisfaction out of seeing all the massive bloodshed done to him and his lunatic disciples.  Mainly, I just wanted to see the conclusion of the horror story at the core of “Red State,” featuring Michael Angarano and his two buds following a sex ad but leading them to the Five Points Trinity Church. But by the time ATF shows up, all narrative and story are thrown out the window to let the bullets fly.  Oh, and there’s also some criticism of the corrupt government at the end that just feels totally out of place given the rest of the film.

When the dust settles, all that’s left are a lot of corpses and a lingering disappointment in the air.  Nothing to cheer about there.  And for the record, I don’t think I’d buy this movie for 20¢.

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Oscar Moment: “Winter’s Bone”

15 06 2010

All is looking good for Deborah Granik and Jennifer Lawrence, two people who you likely hadn’t heard of before this post and almost assuredly hadn’t heard of before this year.

Granik started off 2010 premiering her film, “Winter’s Bone,” at the Sundance Film Festival to massive acclaim.  It won the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic films, a very prestigious award, and was bought by Roadside Attractions for $500,000.  It was released last Friday, June 11, to outstanding critical reception – a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an outstanding 87 on Metacritic.

Looking at the last two winners of the dramatic Grand Jury Prize might show us some potential fates for “Winter’s Bone.”  2009’s recipient was “Precious” (then known by the name of its source material, “Push”), and the 2008 winner was “Frozen River.”

“Precious” had more than just the Grand Jury Prize going for it coming out of Sundance.  It won the Audience Award as well, showing how popular it was with everyone who attended the festival (Mo’Nique also won the first of many prizes for her role in the movie).  It also got the sizzle and added press from its support by Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.  “Winter’s Bone,” on the other hand, has a release with as little grandeur as its setting in the Ozark Mountains.  “Precious” went on to make nearly $50 million and score a stunning 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and a very good 79 on Metacritic.  As we all know, it received Best Picture nominations from the Golden Globes and Oscars, winning 2 Academy Awards on Hollywood’s biggest night.

I see more parallels with “Frozen River,” the decidedly unglamorous and gritty tale of a desperate mother (Melissa Leo) who illegally smuggles people across the U.S border with Canada.  After winning the Grand Jury Prize, it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics (an expert in marketing independent movies) for $500,000.  They opened the movie in late August to tepid audience reaction, opening with a fairly weak $10,000 per theater average, a statistic that shows that theaters weren’t exactly packed.  Critical reception was much more positive, showed by its 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 82 on Metacritic.  But at the end of the year, people remembered “Frozen River.”  It picked up momentum as the season dragged on, beginning with a surprising SAG nomination for Leo that eventually led to an Oscar nomination over the favored Sally Hawkins.  Leo’s strength undoubtedly helped Courtney Hunt’s screenplay get into the Best Original Screenplay fold as well.

I’m inclined to say “Winter’s Bone” will take the “Frozen River” path mainly because they have very similar, dark tones, a strong female performance, and a well-written script (“Winter’s Bone” picked up a screenwriting award at Sundance).  But the per theater average was nearly double that of “Frozen River,” so perhaps it will have a little bit more audience support to carry it through.  I’m just really not expecting it to receive a massive outpouring like “Precious” because it is “one of the unshowiest and most true-blooded epics of Americana you’re ever likely to see,” according to Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum (who gave it an A).

The movie’s leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence, just screams “this year’s Carey Mulligan.”  Even younger than last year’s Best Actress nominee at 19, Lawrence has been a huge talking point of the movie.  Her breakout role has garnered her large attention from the media, leading to a spotlight from Esquire with a fairly steamy photo shoot.

Granik gave Vera Farmiga her big break with her debut feature, “Down to the Bone,” for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and won Best Actress from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  Don’t quote me on this, but I’m fairly certain that Jason Reitman has stated that seeing her in “Down to the Bone” led to her casting in “Up in the Air,” the movie that got her Golden Globe, SAG, and Oscar nominations.  So while it remains suspect how much love Lawrence will receive for this particular role, all signs point to a promising future for the young performer.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (Lawrence), Best Adapted Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director (Granik)





Oscar Moment: “Precious”

22 09 2009

Today, you get to witness the birth of something miraculous.  A new column is born out of Marshall’s avoidance of writing more reviews (there are 3 that will come down the pipeline soon, I promise!), the “Oscar Moment.”  Every time there is a big piece of news involving the Academy Awards or big Oscar candidate emerges, you can count on finding it here.

The inaugural “Oscar Moment” is centered around “Precious.”  The film has positioned itself as a virtual lock for a Best Picture nomination and a frontrunner for the win.  It has won the People Choice Awards at two of the most prestigious film festivals, Sundance and Toronto.  This is the first movie to have taken both awards.  I have been hearing nothing but raves about it for months, including from a friend of mine who saw it at Sundance earlier this year.  He describes it as one of the most emotionally wrenching movies he has ever watched and a marvel of filmmaking.  He also sang the praises of Mo’Nique, considered to be the one to beat in the Best Supporting Actress category this year, saying that he “has never felt such mixed emotions about a character.”

The movie is adapted from a novel by the author Sapphire, originally titled “Push.”  Unfortunately, due to a certain superhero movie that opened earlier this year, the movie chose to change its title to “Precious” after the main character.  Precious is an illiterate and obese teenager living in poverty in New York.  Bad enough for you yet?  She has an abusive mother.  Still not tough enough?  She is carrying her second child by her father.  Yet through all of this, Precious manages to maintain hope, dreaming of marrying a light-skinned boy and getting an education.

“Precious” tackles tough topics, and if it is anything like the trailer, we are in for a bumpy ride.  And I can’t tell if it is supposed to be uplifting at all.  Frankly, I don’t want to know.  But every piece about the movie that I have read has described it as an emotional roller coaster and a movie with such power that you have to get into the proper mental state to prepare yourself for viewing.  I certainly admire movies that are so affecting that I can only watch them once, such as “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist,” and “Revolutionary Road.”  With the exception of the latter, they have found great success at the Oscars.  However, I think the content that “Precious” deals with may be too polarizing for a win.  But I can guarantee I will show up on opening weekend at my art house cinema with a pack of tissues, prepared to have my heart ripped out.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director (Lee Daniels), Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe), Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique), Best Adapted Screenplay