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September 20, 2014

Tusk or How a Fat Man is Changing Hollywood for the Better

MOVEMENT

Tusk – Movement

Way back when we first started Simplistic Reviews, my first review was of “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” Of course when we first started it really wasn’t so much reviews as it was merely talking about a specific scene that we enjoy. It was more, for lack of a better term, simpler in those days. In the years since, the site has expanded and the reviews have become a tad more insightful. I only bring this up because it made me feel nostalgic to think that my first review for the site was for a Kevin Smith flick, and now today I’m proud to review his latest film, the Canadian-inspired horror film “Tusk,” which I feel a real sense of connection with for some reason. While “Tusk” is kind of new, and kind of fresh, there was something in my gut where I felt a little weird kind of already knowing what was going to happen and almost felt guilty about that. More on that later.

“Tusk” is the tale of two podcasters, Wallace and Teddy, who host the  “Not-See Party Podcast.” Wallace is a fun-loving dude who has found success as a podcaster after years of failing as a comedian. He’s got a smoking hot girl friend and gets to travel around the country finding strange and unusual Internet sensations to interview for the podcast. After busting out in his travels to Canada, Wallace finds an intriguing ad telling of the adventures of a man named Howard Howe. Upon arrival at Howe’s home, Wallace is taken in by his calm demeanor and his tale of survival at sea with the help of a walrus, whom Howe befriends. As it turns out, Howe isn’t the pleasant old man that he appears to be, drugging and kidnapping Wallace with a nefarious end-game.

Kevin Smith’s latest effort is a radical departure from anything he’s ever done before, and I’m even including Red State. There is nothing View Askew-y at all, no Snoochie Boochie, no overally clever dialogue, not dick and fart jokes, “Tusk” is pretty much a squirm-fest with some Canadian melodrama thrown in, which might be the one thing that is recognizable from Smith’s previous work.

In case you don’t know the story of “Tusk” it all started as a podcast conversation on Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s SMODcast in Episode 259 “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Being an avid listener of the podcast I was laughing at the scenario they were creating based on an article they found in Gumtree where a room was for rent, but only if the tenant was able to perform some menial tasks, ie, dress in a walrus suit for two hours a day and only act as a walrus would. It would later be revealed that the classified was a prank, however, I would have never of thought that a conversation on a podcast have been made into a feature length film. With DJ, Justin, and myself as podcasters as well, who go off on long and incredibly strange tangents, it’s crazy to think that a tangent can lead to something like this, but this brings me to what sort of irks me about the film.

While I truly did like “Tusk;” I mean it’s weird, thought-provoking, gruesome, and the acting is well done, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself in the theater; what am I watching? While there are already comparisons to “Human Centipede” and other torture porn in the same vein, “Tusk” is both a film with ideas about the savageness of man, and how far are we truly evolved as a species, and a strange love triangle that is briefly touched upon. I understand the Smith likes to borrow a lot from his other films, and I couldn’t help but think that “Tusk” was a cross between the weirdness of “Red State” and the drama of “Chasing Amy.” However, this isn’t a knock, this is just something that I’m sure a lot of people in the crowd who go into this movie cold will probably say to themselves. It almost seems that “Tusk” is an inside joke that only listeners of SMODcast will truly understand, which is cool, it made me feel like part of an exclusive club; a film made just for me, if you will.

The campaign of “Tusk” is almost as interesting as the film itself. After SMODcast 259, Smith posed a question on his Twitter and Instagram account; basically if you want to see a film about a guy getting turned into a walrus, hastag WalrusYes. The response was enormous and with enough up-votes, if you will, “Tusk” was made based on the response. This is what makes Kevin Smith so endearing, and dangerous, for old Hollywood. Old Hollywood relies on suits, and people in high places, to get films made. All Smith needed was a push from his audience and some brave investors, and he made a film that not only looks as good as films done at double, if not triple, the budget, but he was also able to bring in some pretty decent star-power, including Johnny Depp in another over-the-top, yet understated, performance. Like how Smith trolled Hollywood years ago when he screened “Red State” at Sundance and proceeded to purchase his own film, he’s doing something similar by creating a film for his fans just because he could, and people wanted to see it. When you think about it, it makes you think “wow, I can do that…….”

So “Tusk” should you see it or not? For morbid curiosity sake, the film is a no-brainer if you are into horror, and/or a Kevin Smith fan, however, if might throw you off, because this is not your typical Kevin Smith film. This is a new direction, no pun intended, for Smith who I think is at a point in his career where he has reached a self-actualization point where he is not only making films for himself anymore, but for the fans that support him, and that is something that should be applauded. #walrusyes

Fun Fact: While Smith wasn’t able to get Greg Nicotero to design the walrus suit, he was able to nail down Robert Kurtzman, a member of Nicotero’s KNB Efx Group.
September 10, 2014

Frank

SCARY

Frank – Scary

Don’t let the word above fool you; in no way is “Frank” scary, in that classical sense. It’s scary because of the fact that in the race to be cool and different there are so many pitfalls and things that can trip people up in their way to either being famous or noteworthy that it’s extremely easy to forgot that not everyone has to agree or be like you, but in a world ruled by social media and who yells the loudest or gets the last word in, it’s easy to lose your way and want to be the loudest, and pardon my language, be the biggest dickhead in the room. So I guess the scary part is how close Frank is lampooning the social media culture we live in right now. Other than trying to make a point, Frank is weird, charming, and all together great.

Frank is the story of Jon, a would-be musician with about 20 Twitter followers. As fate would have it, he meets the band Soronprfbs as the keyboardist attempts to drown himself. After discovering that Job can play a few chords on his keyboard, Don, the band’s manager invites Jon to play with the bad that night, which eventually turns into an invitation to help the band record their new album in Ireland. As time progresses, Jon records footage of the band’s daily routine which bolsters his Twitter account numbers and rewards him with an invitation for the band to play at SXSW. Upon arrival in Austin, Soronprfbs discovers that they might not get the reception they anticipated on the eve of their first big performance.

There is no doubt that Frank is a strange film. Every characters has an odd personality quirk and while that could run stale quickly, the manic performance of Michael Fassbender distracts you from a film that could get dull and a little too weird quick.

Speaking of the eccentric cast, aside from Fassbender, everyone else is able to hold their own, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays pretty much every musical archetype that people probably hate. She’s moody, hateful, emotional, and best of all, real. While not all musicians are like this, one of my long-time friends is a musician and he is reasonably normal, but Gyllenhaal plays it up very well, and the reference made later in the film comparing her to Syd Barrett is perfect.

Of course what would be a film about a band be without music, while I have a love/hate relationship with mumble-core, noise-core, post-hardcore indie rock, I actually like all the music in the film. It’s as if Captain Beefheart and Mr. Bungle ran a music school and Soronprfbs were their prized pupil. The best comedic beats of the film feature montages of the band practice, but they are also some of the most heartbreaking looking back.

Frank is essentially a love it or hate it film, despite what you might see on Rotten Tomatoes or other film arrogate sites. While I found it quirky, fun, and distressing all at the same time, that is something that might turn off the average viewer expecting a film about a musician wearing a paper-mâché head and his weird band-mates. There are some funny moments in Frank, and the way that Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is able to ground the film before it gets a little too weird is a nice touch, but there are also some very dark, and scary, moments that are jarring, especially when it comes to the third act.

All in all, Frank is an interesting take on fame, music, and social media-driven success. Grounded by some great acting and music, Frank might not be one of the most conventional films this year, in fact, it’s far from it, but it could very well be the “Her” of 2014.

Fun Fact: Frank’s head is based on the story of Frank Sidebottom.

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