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Now Playing: Kevin Smith Ticks Some People Off

A few movies opening this weekend rather quietly, none of which will likely topple "The Help" at the box office. "A Good Old Fashioned Orgy" is cute, but never as outrageous as it wants to be. "Shark Night 3D" confuses me, as the film appears to be set during the daytime, at least judging by the trailer. "The Debt" does have Jessica Chastain and is getting some good reviews, so it's probably the most promising of the weekend's offerings. And I haven't heard a thing about "Apollo 18."

However, if you can figure out how to work your Video On Demand, you can also check out Kevin Smith's latest, the highly controversial "Red State." And when I say controversial, I don't just mean the subject matter--the film focuses on a Fundamentalist Christian sect that kidnaps three teenage boys and plans to murder them before a Waco-like stand-off ensues. Nobody's really worked up about that. No, a bunch of people got upset at Smith for saying he was going to auction off the film to distributors, then bought the rights for himself for $20 and is distributing it by taking the film on the road himself. This really irritated some people, as you can read about here. You can read about this, and more, in my interview with Smith here.

My feelings about Smith have changed over the years. I was a huge fan of his early work, particularly "Chasing Amy," which I thought was original and bold and beautiful. I also really enjoyed "Clerks" and "Dogma" and even have a soft spot for "Mallrats." Things started to get a bit too self-congratulatory and meta for me with films like "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and even "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" (and I've never made it through "Cop Out"), but I was always interested to see what he would do next.  As of late, however, I've enjoyed Kevin Smith the personality more than Kevin Smith the director--I enjoy his warts-and-all podcast and actually really like seeing him onscreen in films like "Catch and Release" and "Live Free or Die Hard."

Now comes "Red State," which I have some real issues with. But I can't deny Smith has grown as a visual filmmaker--it's his best-looking film yet. And there are some performances to be admired. As I learned from speaking to him, this is a guy who loves and respects actors, and I have to give it up for anyone who writes a movie around obscure character actor Michael Parks.  And whatever shortcoming I find with the film, I have to say I'm surprised by amount of vitriol directed at the filmmaker by some critics, who really seemed to take his self-distribution personally. Case in point: HitFix's Drew McWeeney, who commits the horrible mistake in his review of bringing up his own work, saying he made a film with similar themes--the "Masters of Horror" episode "Pro-Life." That he tries to couch it as a response to criticism from people who will say, "Well, if you think you can do it better, you should" is sort of silly--nobody worth responding to thinks that while reading a review. Clearly, the critic just wanted to throw in a plug for his own film.

Well, for kicks, last night I watched "Pro-Life" (it's available on Netflix Instant Watch) and it didn't suck. However, I find it so different from "Red State" in tone and look and storyline, the comparison doesn't even really make sense to me. Sure, both feature religious zealots and a bloody stand-off, but they're really very different films, not even in the same genre. "Red State" is a fairly gritty drama, while "Pro-Life" is straight up horror with a supernatural twist. Yes, "Red State" has been called a horror film by some, but it's really not an apt description. There are no creatures, no otherworldy elements...I suppose one could make a case for it being a horror film in the way slasher films are, but I don't see it.

Whatever my feelings about the film, I have to admire what Smith has done, using a unique distribution model that has already paid off. I know his auction antics pissed some people off,but Smith maintains he never lied. "I had said, 'If we get into Sundance, I plan to pick my distributor, auction-style in the room,'" he told me. "That’s all I said, but everyone started extrapolating that I was going to sell the film to the highest bidder. It was very specifically worded to watch what would happen when people take a telephone game to the worst possible degree and start making up information. They read other blogs and start adding information and soon theyr’e saying the highest bidder is going to buy the movie. That’s not what I said, I said exactly what I said because I knew what we were going to do!"

In short, the whole thing can probably be best summed up by Smith himself. "Love it or hate it, it’s the most interesting distribution story to happen in a long time."

--Jenelle Riley

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