Other than a musical performance of The Blue Danube by some townfolks at one point, there is little sugar in the western town they call Sweetwater. There is, however, unfettered corruption in all positions of authority. The bank, bears the ironic moniker of Hugh’s Integrity and Trust, but Hugh (the always excellent Stephen Root) takes great delight in the act of all but robbing his customers. The current sheriff is a lazy and incompetent blowhard and the local brothel madame (Amy Madigan)sold her own daughter into the prostitute trade without a second thought about it. The general store’s proprietor has a Porky’s style peephole for watching the few ladies in town strip down to their underwear when trying on the fancy dresses he retails. All are under the iron fist of Josiah, the preacher and literal shepherd who runs the biggest Ranch in the valley, called Holy Land (a western counterpart to Django Unchained’s Candi Land.) Josiah is tightly wound, spiritually crazy and exudes 24 karat hypocrisy through every pore of his alabaster skin. Jason Isaacs, here plays one of those great mustache twirling madmen who at one point crucifies someone on an upside down cross. Sweetwater is that kind of movie.
Saddling up a near A-list cast of character actors heaping on gobs of production-value, in the parlance of our times, Sweetwater is a western trashterpiece. The film might be an acquired taste, but for those who might detect its tannins and notes of ironic humour and wordplay in the story, there are many, many delights. In rapid succession we are introduced to a bearded Mormon-Prophet Josiah and his particular brand of apocalyptic preaching, the playfully competent prancing hired lawman, Jackson (Ed Harris – whose manner and wardrobe seem to be channeling Doctor Who), and the straight-backed frontierswoman, Sarah (January Jones) frolicking with her Mexican husband, Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) on their dusty ranch property in the dusky evening. We will watch all of these actors chew scenery in their own fashion over the course of the next 100 minutes. They will make elaborate speeches, offer flinty glares, and dwell a bit in their idiosyncrasies before the obligatory climax in which everyone will shoot at each other. But O Brother! What scenery will be chewed before we get there.
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DISCLAIMER: It is tempting to frame a review of Kevin Smith’s new film, RED STATE, around its controversy on the business and social media side of things. Smiths decision to ‘four wall’ the film on a roadshow style tour and shutting out the usual publicity channels caused a bit of a tempest in a teapot at Sundance, particularly because seems to have become a lot more prickly in the past decade and has no problem broadcasting this to his fanbase either by his podcasting network or twitter account. That being said, I do not judge a Mission Impossible film by concerning myself with Tom Cruises thoughts on pharmaceuticals or his antics on Oprah, and I believe that Smiths film deserves a fair shake outside the confines of personality and gossip (and the business of show.) But it is hard, oh so hard, not to see things through the mist of online micro-controversies.
The ‘cult’ film is back, kicking off with the one-two punch of House of the Devil and The Last Exorcism along with the forthcoming Wicker Man sequel (Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Tree) and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, the genre hasn’t seen this kind of surge since the mid to late 1970s. Sandwiched in the middle of the micro-renaissance is Kevin Smith’s radical departure from both the Askewniverse and pungent palette cleanser after his real horror film, Cop Out. Red State is not so much a cult-film as it is a film about cults, but one that defies expectations at several turns. Part diatribe against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church (who is mentioned – and casually disregarded – explicitly in in the film) part torture-horror, part action-thriller, part bureaucratic farce, there are at least four films clamoring for dominance in Red State. And while Smith may not quite have panache for tonal shifts that the South Koreans have perfected, there are enough surprises on display here to warrant a recommendation along with a caveat or three.
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Your guess is as good as mine. Without doing too much research, all I know is it ain’t Pixar and it’s got a whole slew of recognizable personality voices; including Johnny Depp (playing the title character – apparently a chameleon with an identity crisis), Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Isla Fisher and Stephen Root. And thank God Gore Verbinski is off those atrocious Pirates movies.
I gotta say though, for a teaser trailer this is a pretty swell wft:
P.S. If you go to the main site like the teaser instructs, you’ll find a whole lot of not much. SOme links to their social media usuals and an animation that goes on forever. I watched it for a long time hoping something would happen; instead, not much goes on. It makes for kind of a fun screen saver though I suppose.