11 years ago, I was introduced (by a former boss of mine) to a little movie called Mallrats. That became the beginning of a great journey with writer/director/producer Kevin Smith and his work. Last year, I attended a Q&A show of his and loved hearing all these stories of his time making movies and working with certain actors in his career.
When they announced a few months ago that Kevin Smith would be coming back to Kansas City in May (with Jason Mewes), I was ecstatic. So imagine my surprise when he announced just weeks later that he would be coming in March to pre-screen his latest film, Red State. Me... a movie geek that loves Kevin Smith's work.... getting the chance to attend such an event. I was researching ticket prices immediately. My mom bought tickets for her and I to go a couple weeks later.
Leading up to the night, Kevin Smith did the usual radio spots and Twitter promotions. But this was the Kansas City show... and it got a lot more interesting, thanks to the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The movie stirred up a lot of controversy the past year since it was believed to be about the Phelps and their many antics. Just like the last time Kevin was in town, they planned to protest prior to the show, but I don't think they expected to be invited to see the movie and get involved in the Q&A.
Oh... this just got interesting. Then, hours before the show, Kevin decided to give out 100 tickets to anyone that came to the Midland with their own picket signs. The most creative ones got tickets. Now I was more excited to see what the night was going to bring.
My mom and I make our drive down town and this is some of what we saw when we drove by (no, this isn't my video... but glad I found it):
Okay, so the protest was about 15 people (which was double the amount from last year). But seeing the counter protesters was highly entertaining. My mom and I walked around to look at some of the signs before entering the theater. We have some very creative people in the city!
After we got in the theater, grabbed a drink and got seated, we didn't have to wait long for the show to begin. Kevin came out to great applause and many of us gave him a standing ovation. He was wearing a hockey jersey and looked like he had lost some weight (good for him). He acknowledged the Phelps family, who had seats in the first balcony. The audience was pretty courteous to them; I recall only hearing a few half-assed "boos." Kevin then mentions that after the movie, Megan Phelps-Roper would join him onstage to give her personal review of the film. He keeps the rest of the opening speech short and introduces the film. Then... the movie begins.
Three high school teens decide to go to a nearby town to have sex with a woman that they found through the Internet. They end up finding themselves inside the church of an extremely fundamentalist group. The leader of the church, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), takes the word of God to a new level, in which he and his church members murder those who commit sin, which is witnessed by one of the teens and the adult members of the church. The teens, now extremely terrified, try to escape the same fate. They end up in the middle of a hostage situation with the ATF, lead by Joseph Kennan (John Goodman). This begins a lot of bloodshed on both ends of the terrorist type acts.
This movie is definitely a horror movie... but on a different level. If you think about how leaders like Fred Phelps can get when they get worked up over something they are passionate about (like what he "preaches" to others), then imagine what would happen if he decided to take matters into his own hands and slay others "in the name of God." That, to me, is scary on a realistic level. Kevin warned the audience that this film will send you through a weird mix of emotions... and it did.
The movie does have good dialogue, as Kevin Smith has developed throughout his career. The church service scene is one of the most well-written (and acted) scenes he has ever created. That same scene has the first death, which was executed in a way I had never seen before. Some stranger is plastic wrapped onto a cross and gagged. Then, when the church members were ready to kill him, they wrapped his head with plastic wrap and aim a gun at the top of his head to shoot downward. They do it this way to prevent spilling of homosexual blood in the church. Yeah, it was fucked up.
The acting was phenomenal. Michael Parks owned that role... there was nobody else that could have executed it as well as he did. John Goodman was the character everyone rooted for, all the way to the very end. Kerry Bishe (she played Cheyenne- the granddaughter of Abin Cooper) had the breakout role of the film, and I hope some major academy recognizes that when awards season comes around next year. Overall, this movie was very good and I cannot wait for its release in theaters this October so I can see it again! Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
When the movie was on, Kevin tweeted about how we responded to the film. Apparently, Kansas City was the most bloodthirsty audience (at that point on the tour). Then again, we have the Phelps living in our backyard, so to see fictional versions of them becoming part of the bloodbath was a lot more enjoyable to us. We laughed at the beginning, got silent during Abin Cooper's speech, and fiercely cheered when a church member was killed (which happened a lot). At one of the most epic deaths, someone yelled "Winning," causing a lot of laughter and cheering (and made me smile, since it felt just like sitting in the theater when I go to the monthly Rocky Horror showings). We also cheered for John Goodman... a lot. He was the hero and we loved him for it.
All right... time for the Q&A session, which was being filmed (I had a feeling it would).
The first thing Kevin brought up was that the members of the WBC that stayed for the movie left 15 minutes in... followed by a comment that we have now found a way to drive them away from protesting at funerals (just start showing the movie to them!). There were a few good questions about casting, like that if George Carlin were still alive, he would have been considered for the role of Abin Cooper (but as Kevin stated numerous times, nobody other than Michael Parks could have done that role justice). A couple people asked film making questions and such, which Kevin went into detail about his plans about helping independent filmmakers get their works showcased.
Then, the unexpected happened.
I noticed a couple of people standing at the microphones to my right. Something seemed different about them. They introduced themselves. Libby Phelps and Joshua Phelps-Roper. Everyone got silent. They were two of Fred Phelps grandchildren and they emancipated themselves from the church (and their family). The audience went wild with applause.
Two minutes later, they were onstage... and remained there for the next hour.
Libby and Josh basically recounted to the audience of how they left the church and their family (Libby left about two years ago and Josh left when he was 19- which I think was about 7-8 years ago). They confirmed that the church was basically a cult. They did not celebrate any holidays except for birthdays (so no Christmas or Easter... funny how they call themselves a RELIGIOUS organization and not celebrate those days). Both of them have found love, as Libby is engaged and Josh is married with a son. They also have had difficulty finding something they can believe in when it comes to organized religion.
When asked about the movie, Libby and Josh gave some very awesome insight. During a scene where the ATF and the Cooper family are having a shooting battle, Abin asks his daughter for some sweet tea. Libby pointed out that she experienced similar instances when she used to protest. They would talk about dinner plans and stuff while holding picket signs and getting things thrown at them. This brought Kevin to tears and when he hugged Libby he said that her comment "made up for a year's worth of bad reviews for Cop Out" (and the audience cheered).
The Q&A ends with a couple more questions before Kevin (and the Phelps) get a massive standing ovation. Since it was filmed, I predict that when Red State is released on DVD the Kansas City Q&A will be in the bonus features. I'm almost willing to put money on it.
So, there you have it. My epic evening at the Red State pre-screening. I was so glad I got to experience this (and my Mom too). It was one of those "you HAD to be there" kind of nights. At least I was kind enough to share a lot of it to my friends and readers.
Kevin Smith is coming back May 2nd to Kansas City, with Jason Mewes. My mom is already planning to get us tickets. Seeing Kevin Smith three times within a year? Wow... how did that become possible??? :-)