Tag Archives: tusk

Tusk

Tusk

Today, I’m going to take a look at Kevin Smith’s 2014 creature feature, Tusk.

The plot of Tusk is summarized on IMDb as follows:

When podcaster Wallace Bryton goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe, his best friend Teddy and girlfriend Allison team with an ex-cop to look for him.

Tusk was written, directed, and edited by Kevin Smith, who is known for films like Chasing Amy, Clerks, Clerks 2, Mallrats, Jersey Girl, Red State, and Dogma, as well as his numerous successful podcasts, television shows, comic books, and live Q+A events.

The primary cast of Tusk is made up of Michael Parks (Red State, From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill), Justin Long (Dodgeball, Drag Me To Hell, Accepted, Galaxy Quest), Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense, A.I., The Spoils Before Dying, Secondhand Lions, Pay It Forward), Genesis Rodriguez (Big Hero 6, Run All Night), and Johnny Depp (Yoga Hosers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, Black Mass, Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands).

The cinematographer on Tusk was James Laxton, whose other credits include Moonlight (which netted him an Academy Award nomination), Yoga Hosers, Bad Milo, and Holidays.

The musical score for the film was composed by Christopher Drake, who also provided music for Yoga Hosers and Holidays, as well as a number of animated DC movies like Batman: Under The Red Hood and Batman: Year One.

Tusk was distributed theatrically by A24, which was at the time an eccentric independent distributor that was building a positive reputation. Today, it is a renowned brand in independent cinema: it boasted the Best Picture winner Moonlight, as well as acclaimed films like The Witch, Swiss Army Man, 20th Century Woman, Room, Green Room, The Lobster, Ex Machina, The Rover, Under the Skin, and Enemy.

The bizarre creature effects for Tusk were provided by Robert Kurtzman, whose other credits include It Follows, John Dies At The End, Bubba Ho-Tep, Vampires, Ghosts of Mars, Spawn, Scream, In The Mouth of Madness, Intruder, The People Under The Stairs, and From Dusk Till Dawn, among many others. He was recommended to Kevin Smith for the project by special effects guru Gregory Nicotero, who turned down the job due to schedule conflicts with other projects.

The idea for Tusk came to Kevin Smith after discussing a prank Gumtree advertisement on his flagship podcast, SModcast. The bizarre advertisement offered free board to a housemate in exchange for wearing a walrus suit for 2 hours a day, and fully performing the part during that time.

Tusk was the first entry in Kevin Smith’s proposed True North trilogy: three movies with similar horror themes and common characters set in Western Canada. The second of these was Yoga Hosers, which featured a number of returning elements from Tusk. The third film in the series, a Jaws parody called Moose Jaws, has still not begun filming as of May 2017, likely due to the overwhelmingly negative reception to Yoga Hosers.

In order to gauge his fanbase as to whether there was enough interest for him to make Tusk, Kevin Smith launched a hashtag campaign. Anyone could respond on Twitter with either #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo to indicate whether they thought he should take on the outlandish concept.

Tusk was made on an estimated production budget of $3 million, on which it managed to gross only $1.8 million in a limited theatrical run. Critically, the movie didn’t fare any better: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.4/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 41% from critics and 36% from audiences.

As you would certainly expect, Tusk is weird by design, on the virtue of its concept. Accordingly, it features some of the strangest makeup and creature effects in recent years, which is fortunately compellingly strange and unnerving. Designer Robert Kurtzman definitely outdid himself with this body horror execution of a humanoid walrus, and its presence is arguably the highlight of the film.

As far as other positives of the film go, I would be remiss not to mention the late Michael Parks. Parks, who previously starred in Smith’s religious thriller Red State, is firing on all cylinders for his unhinged role in Tusk. Not an ounce of scenery goes unchewed by Parks, who nearly makes the movie on his own. Particularly in the first act of the film, he manages to act circles around Justin Long, and builds an immense amount of tension through his storytelling and body language. However, a lot of the tension dissipates as the movie goes on, and changes focus to other characters. Unfortunately, by the film’s supposed climax, the movie has already peaked, and is significantly hindered by weaker elements that whittle on its effectiveness throughout.

Mark Jenkins, in his review of Tusk for NPR, had the following choice words for the film:

Tusk is an overextended, tonally incoherent joke that would make viewers squirm even if it didn’t involve a bloody and demented medical experiment.

While Parks is impressively suave as the absurd obsessive, the other performances range from unpersuasive to distracting. Long is off-pitch throughout, and a slumming, uncredited superstar functions only as a half-comprehensible in-joke.

That review hits on what are, by far, my two biggest issues with Tusk. The first of them is the “uncredited superstar,” Johnny Depp, who puts in what might be the worst performance of his career. In a word, his portrayal of a French Canadian detective is unbearable. His facial prosthesis look ridiculous, his accent is all over the place, and his presence and performance grind the movie to an unnecessary stop. Honestly, Tusk would have been a better overall feature if his point-of-view section had been excised altogether. For the life of me, I can’t fathom why it wasn’t left on the cutting room floor, outside of Depp’s supposed marketability.

The second issue that Jenkins brings up that I emphatically agree with is his assessment that the film is “overextended.” On top of the pacing troubles brought on by the aforementioned Johnny Depp segment, everything after the intriguing first act setup feels bloated and stretched, like Smith was having trouble making a full feature out of the concept. Progress happens slowly once the second act begins, and the shifts in perspective make it feel even slower. I honestly think, however, that there was enough promise and material for this idea to make a pretty kick-ass short film, but the necessary run time to hit feature-length brought about a lot of the problems that hinder Tusk. With some of the extended gags omitted, Johnny Depp’s part reduced, and the rescue attempt shortened, I think the total run-time could have been brought down to about an hour, and been a pretty intriguing flick to plug into HBO or Netflix. As it stands, however, the pacing leaves it a bit on the dull side.

Overall, I do think that Tusk is a fair bit better than the mess of Yoga Hosers, and had some initial promise. The effects are pretty decent, Parks puts in a chillingly strange performance, and there is certainly an intriguing setup for the story. However, the screenplay has some serious pacing issues, which are exacerbated by a mind-numbingly terrible performance from Johnny Depp, and a generally very unlikable lead character. I do think that the movie was written off prematurely by some based on its concept alone, but ultimately, I think that the failure of this flick is 100% on Smith’s screenplay and dual director/editor role. If he had someone else take on any number of those roles, he might have had a mitigating force to keep things in check. Alas, that’s not how it went down.

As far as recommendations go, Tusk is complicated. Kevin Smith fans certainly should check it out, as this was basically made for their benefit. Beyond that, body horror fans might as well check it out for the effects, but the rest of the film will probably leave a lot to be desired. As for everyone else, I think this is a toss-up. I have talked to people who have loved this movie that I didn’t expect, and people who passionately hated it that I thought might go the other way. If the concept intrigues you, I say dive in at your own risk.

Advertisements

Yoga Hosers

Yoga Hosers

yogahosers

Yesterday, I had the chance to catch a pre-release tour screening of the latest film by Kevin Smith: Yoga Hosers. This horror-comedy (or comedy-horror) is a quasi-sequel to Tusk, and focuses on a handful of characters from that movie on a new adventure involving a Canadian Nazi conspiracy. Because this movie hasn’t hit theaters yet, I’m going to preface this review with a SPOILER WARNING.

Yoga Hosers was written, directed, and edited by Kevin Smith, a once-revered Sundance darling and Miramax loyalist who is now known for his sprawling podcast network, oversized hockey jerseys, and nerdy ramblings. However, he has never stayed away from movies for long, in spite of often claiming to be done with the medium. Yoga Hosers is the second in his planned “True North” trilogy: a series of movies set in Canada that was kicked off by Tusk, and will conclude with Moose Jaws at an undisclosed future time.

Smith’s cinematographer for the movie was James Laxton, who previously worked for him on Tusk, and has worked on an assortment of other films like Bad Milo and Nightcrawler.

The music for Yoga Hosers was provided by Christopher Drake, who has primarily worked on DC animated movies and video games like Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman: Under The Red Hood, Justice League: Doom, and Batman: Arkham Origins.

The special effects and creature work for Yoga Hosers were overseen by Robert Kurtzman, who has had a long career working on films like Tusk, It Follows, The Faculty, John Dies At The End, the From Dusk Til Dawn trilogy, Vampires, In The Mouth of Madness, The People Under The Stairs, 976-EVIL, DeepStar Six, Army of Darkness, Tremors, and From Beyond, among many others. He even directed a handful of movies, like Wishmaster.

Yoga Hosers stars Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco, Black Mass, The Lone Ranger, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Nightmare On Elm Street), his daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp, Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith, Kevin Smith’s podcast co-host Ralph Garman (Red State, Ted), Haley Joel Osment (Entourage, The 6th Sense), Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development), Justin Long (Drag Me To Hell, Accepted), Kevin Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (Red State, Jersey Girl), and Kevin Smith himself.

Initial reviews for Yoga Hosers are pretty negative. As of June 13th, 2016, Yoga Hosers has an IMDb user score of 4.9/10 with 499 votes tallied, and a Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 25%, with 20 critic reviews in.

The idea for Yoga Hosers was born on the set of Tusk, when Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp were thrown in as minor characters in a convenience store scene on a whim by Kevin Smith. The result, according to Smith and Johnny Depp, was a surprisingly natural performance from both girls, and an impressive chemistry. Upon completion of the film, Smith claims that Johnny Depp expressed interest in reprising his character in the future, all of which planted the seeds for Smith to write a screenplay around the three minor Tusk characters.

The design and tone of Yoga Hosers was intended to imitate the sorts of movies that would run on late night cable during Smith’s childhood. In particular, Kevin Smith has cited Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Puppetmaster as the sort of movies that inspired Yoga Hosers. However, instead of making a movie purely in that vein, he wanted to center the story on teenage girls, once he realized that that demographic wasn’t able to enjoy those same movies he could, due to a lack of representation.

Yoga Hosers, unfortunately, doesn’t quite succeed in its aims. While there is some humor that would probably resonate with young women (primarily centered on texting and contemporary technology), most of the humor in movie is referential. For instance, the biggest laughs I recall from my screening were from cameos by people like Stan Lee and Kevin Conroy, or from direct references to other Kevin Smith works (primarily podcast in-jokes and one blatant Clerks reference). Worse than that, however, is the sheer quantity of tired non-jokes in the screenplay: exaggerated Canadian accents and cultural jokes are milked endlessly, awkward banter with Johnny Depp doesn’t play,  celebrity impersonations are almost as prominent as they were in Master of Disguise, and the villainous “Bratzi” minions are a collective high pitched, shouting annoyance.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with any of this (it is all a matter of preference, I guess), I have trouble believing that any of these elements would really appeal to tween girls, as Kevin Smith apparently intended. All of these things seem far more geared to appeal to middle-aged (and stoned) Kevin Smith fans than anyone else.

yogahosers2The thing that seems almost beyond belief to me is the fact that Johnny Depp gives the worst performance in a movie with two non-actor leads. Honestly, the Depp and Smith offspring do have good chemistry, and are generally ok with the load they were given. Depp, on the other hand, is just as jarring and unfunny as he was in his first turn with the character in Tusk. Apparently, his fascination with the character stems from, predictably enough, an obsession with facial prosthesis. Much like Eddie Murphy, Depp seems to have fallen into a trap in which he needs to be behind some sort of mask to give a performance. Even in Black Mass, in which he is quite good, he is transformed with makeup into another person. The manhunter Guy Lapointe is, as Smith tells it, a way for Johnny Depp to wear a prosthetic dick on his face (that was, apparently, VERY intentional), and use a fake accent that has annoyed the people closest to him for years. Now, Depp has a platform to annoy the movie-going public with it as well, or at least whoever actually shows up for Yoga Hosers.

The effects work in Yoga Hosers honestly perplexed me. I’m not sure if the green screen work was intentionally bad as a sort of homage, or if it was just shoddy. To Kurtzman’s credit, the sausage monsters are unsettling, but the use of CGI gore (well, saurkraut) looks absolutely unforgivably awful. The thing that stood out most, though, was the centerpiece of the film: a Nazi-crafted Golem built out of human remains and bratwurst in the shape of a hockey goalie. Looking past the obvious insensitivity of including a Nazi-built Jewish folkloric figure, the monster looks implausibly fake. Again, this might have been homage, but I couldn’t get past how clearly rubbery the texture looked. Compared to his work on Tusk (or any number of other films), the “Goalie Golem” just looked bad.

yogahosers3What really annoys me most about Yoga Hosers is that the parts are so much better than the product. Johnny Depp is a capable actor, Robert Kurtzman is a wizard, Kevin Smith is a decent director (and far better writer), and the stated motivations behind this movie are fantastic. I am a huge fan of the same kinds of movies that drove Smith to make Hosers, and I am also in agreement that women and girls need more representation in popular fiction. Yoga Hosers, in theory, is a movie that needs to me. That is why I feel so disappointed that it isn’t actually that movie.

Lastly, there is a big problem underneath this movie that seeps out in some not-so-subtle ways. Kevin Smith has a long-standing chip on his shoulder with the very concept of film criticism. For as easy-going, likable, inspiring, and positive-natured as the man usually is, Smith has nothing but contempt for those how would dare to point out flaws with a Kevin Smith movie. From what I can tell, this dates back a long way, at least to Jersey Girl, but really went into meltdown after Cop Out. In Yoga Hosers, he goes so far as to give the villain a distinct motivation: a desire to execute all art critics, which sets up a number of tired critic jokes. This reminded me a lot of the 1998 Godzilla, in which Roland Emmerich included a character based on Roger Ebert in order to mock him. The result, as you might expect, is that Emmerich looked like a petty jackass. Now, Kevin Smith has sunk roughly to the same level, which is regrettable to say.

yogahosers5
The thing is, I generally like Kevin Smith as a personality and nerd pundit. The screening of Yoga Hosers I went to took nearly 5 hours, but the movie itself was only a fraction of that time. Kevin Smith knows how to talk and endear himself to fans: he is honest and candid in a way that should doom him in the confidential land of Hollywood, but the admiration he has endeared has kept him afloat for years. Just the experience of listening to him talk has brought people out to theaters across the country, and his audience online likely dwarfs even that. As a public figure, Smith makes people laugh, and inspires lots of people to create. Honestly, that seems to be his true passion at this point. Unfortunately, his movies just aren’t as compelling as he is. There is a reason his tours are more Q+A than movies now: on a deeper level, people really want to hear him and experience him, not watch his movies.

yogahosers4All in all, I’ve been pulling for Smith to resurrect his film career. I really liked Red State, and thought that Tusk had some good highlights. Yoga Hosers, though, is a huge fall. It is everything negative that I feared it might be from the time it was announced. That said, I’m optimistic about Kevin Smith focusing on television: I think it might just suit him better at this point. As for Yoga Hosers, this is really only watchable for Kevin Smith fans, and even then, it is a toss-up. My advice is to skip this one.

yogahosers1