Archive for category Kevin Smith

Zach and Miri Make a Porno

Zach and Miri Make a Porno

How to use porn as a “meet cute.”

Given my absurd effort to attempt to review every film that I see from beginning to end, I am obligated to write something about “Zach and Miri Make a Porno.” I don’t really want to though. Despite what you make think, it isn’t very much fun to write about films which aren’t very good, and “Zach and Miri” just isn’t very good. This review will be shorter than most.

I suspect that you can only write so many scripts about characters trapped in a post-high school inertia which combines raunchy dialogue and a sweet emotional tenderness . Eventually that well simply goes dry. In “Zach and Miri,” ¬†there are a couple of nice performances ¬†and a couple moments of lewd brilliance, but most of the film feels like Kevin Smith’s bucket is scraping against a bed of rocks.

Much credit goes to Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the film’s title characters, a pair of “just friends” and roommates who decide to shoot a porno in order to ease their financial woes. This is of course just the contrivance needed for them to acknowledge their mutual feelings for each other and live happily every after, but Rogen and Banks have a goofy chemistry which makes the film work despite a mostly shaky script. Aiding them in their home-made porno endeavor are Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, and Ricky Babe

It is during the scenes in which they are shooting their porno that the film comes alive. Their first attempt is a “Star Wars” parody called “Star Whores,” which features such characters as “Hung Solo” and “Darth Vibrator.” When this film goes awry because of a deal with a shady landlord, their next attempt is shot at the coffee shop where Zach works and is called “Suck My Cockucinno.” This leads to the best moment in the film. Amidst a ridiculous scenario involving milk delivery and silly innuendos, Zach and Miri have the sex which makes them realize they love each other. As to the rest of the film, we have a classic “idiot” plot which fuel the drama the rest of the way and generated a fair bit of ambivalence in me.

Kevin Smith has a notoriously unhappy relationship with critics, so I’ll understand if he doesn’t take kindly to this review, (Not that I qualify as a “critic,”) but the film never seemed to rise above the level of a high-concept curiosity. The seed of a great raunchy comedy is in there, but it needs a lot more from the script and its supporting cast. You can only lean on overtly crude language and shocking sat gags for so long before it becomes an exercise in tedium.

2/5

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Red State

This is easily Kevin Smith’s most (and only) cinematic film. In fact, this is so unlike Smith’s other films that it would be unidentifiable as one of his but for the director credit appearing on the screen. An intriguing mix of horror, suspense, and drama, Smith has found a way to tell a story using visual language instead of Kevin Smith dialogue.

Judging from the first fifteen minutes of this film, you might think you were geared up for a bawdy teen sex comedy, but things quickly take a sharp turn. Somewhere in the South, three teenage friends Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner), and Billy Ray (Nichalas Braun) meet a woman on an online dating site and agree to meet her for a night of “fun.” This turns out to be a setup. The boys are given drugged beers and they wake up, bound and gagged, in the middle of the compound belonging to a group of religious zealots.

Now for legal reasons, the film distances itself from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, but the religious group in the film is obviously inspired by their work. Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) the cantankerous, combative elder of a homosexual-hating congregation consisting almost exclusively of his relatives, leads his church in protests at the funerals of gay people as per “God’s will.” Admittedly, Abin takes his mission several steps further then Fred Phelps. Using his cadre of children and grandchildren, he lures gay men (and apparently those he deems quasi-gay) into traps, where they are murdered. By classifying them as insects, the church is able to circumnavigate that pesky “Thous Shalt Not Kill” commandment.

While part of the film focuses on the plight of the teenage boys as they, in the vein of a horror film, attempt to escape the compound, the film takes another turn when the ATF gets involved in the situation. Led by Agent Keenan (John Goodman), the situation quickly escalates. The confrontation becomes a loud, incoherent screech, like the sound brought on by two microphones brought into close proximity, as though each side is an individual feedback loop, incompatible with another.

It isn’t just the church members, who isolate themselves in their compound and create a logic system in which everything that happens reinforces their us and Jesus against the world mentality, but the PR-minded ATF that are guilty of existing in a self-affirming cocoon. In fact, nearly every character’s brain seems to be pumping a self-righteous message of self-importance. Forced to confront each other in a zero-sum context, these carefully constructed schemas become fortified, resulting in the madness seen in this film.

While the film works in a multitude of different ways, these components are spliced together in a way that is jarring in a way might be intentional, but is problematic. In taking a jagged path from horror to drama to political thriller, the film loses its way somewhat and sometimes seems unsure of itself. With that said, Kevin Smith has never been this ambitious and frankly this interesting. At times, his writing has led to quirky, entertaining and mildly thought-provoking films (Clerks and Dogma), but his dialogue-driven slacker schtick had grown stale. He has reinvented himself here, and if he decides to make another film, he has certainly piqued my interest.

4/5

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