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Kevin Smith's 'Tusk' will transform you

Posted Monday, September 22, 2014 at 5:13 PM Central
Last updated Monday, September 22, 2014 at 7:50 PM Central

by John Couture

I am a showman by profession... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.
- P.T. Barnum

Phineas Taylor Barnum was many things, but at heart he was a showman and he aspired to entertain others. So too, Kevin Smith is many things, but he always remains a showman at heart.

It's been three days since I've seen Tusk and the film is still haunting me. Not in a boogeyman in the closet sort of way, but more in the vein of how in the world did the Clerks guy reinvent himself in such a remarkable way.

January 23, 2011. Red State just made its world debut at the Sundance Film Festival and Kevin Smith takes the stage where he has promised to auction off the film rights. With Wayne Gretzky's stick in hand, he proceeds to buy the film himself for $20 in a stunt that would surely make P.T. Barnum smile.

Smith announces a plan to self-distribute the film by four-walling it across the country, combining the film with his trademark Q&A show for a premium price. Studio heads are not happy. Bloggers are not impressed.

And yet, love him or loathe him, they can't help but write about him.

January 28, 1994. Clerks just finished its last screening at the Sundance Film Festival and it was back to work at the local convenience store on Monday for Kevin Smith and then fate intervened. Miramax stepped up to the plate and Kevin's life was forever changed.

And yet, his life wasn't the only one that changed on that fateful night.

This is the part of his story that always gets glossed over. As part of his deal with Miramax, Kevin made sure that his friends were taken care of and able to make their own films. What resulted is a slew of View Askew films made by Kevin's friends.

Films such as A Better Place, Drawing Flies, Vulgar and Big Helium Dog may not reverberate with many people, but these films do have their own little Hollywood legacy. Brian Lynch wrote and directed Big Helium Dog and had cameos in many of Kevin's films. Of course, you probably know his more recent writing fare better. Hop, Puss in Boots and the forthcoming Minions all litter his resumé.

While it's true that Kevin gave Jason Lee his big break in Mallrats, it was Drawing Flies and A Better Place that really helped him to expand his craft. Bryan Johnson is better known as the curmudgeonly foil for the "Comic Book Men" on AMC, but he got his start writing and directing Vulgar.

Jason Mewes has enjoyed a comfortable living playing the whimsical Jay and other various iterations of the same character. The list goes on and on, but the story is still the same. Kevin could have easily "gone Hollywood," but he decided to do just the opposite.

Speaking of "Comic Book Men," the successful AMC show stars two of his childhood friends and a guy that used to run Kevin Smith's website back in the day. And yet, despite all of this, certain bloggers still felt the need to attack him for a myriad of reasons.

Following Red State, Smith hinted at retirement and discovered his next two passions, podcasting and smoking weed. While they were leading him further from the path of making another film, a funny thing happened, they actually helped to inspire and fuel his drive to make more films.

Tusk is Kevin Smith's return to film after a four year absence and it seems that he's buried the hatchet with the online community of bloggers. It seems that he's having fun again making movies and that's really all that matters, no? People seem to forget that he got into this business to make films with his friends and he's still doing that to this day.

Sure, now his circle of friends includes some of the largest stars in film in Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Johnny Depp, but that doesn't mean his approach has changed. With the remaining films in his "True North Trilogy" and Anti-Claus on the horizon, it doesn't seem like retirement is even in the conversation anymore and that's a good thing.

As for Tusk? I saw it this weekend and I have to say that it lives up to high expectations that I had for the film. Is it for everyone? Nope, but then again none of Kevin Smith's films are for everyone.

Michael Parks is brilliant naturally and he has a tremendous gift for taking Kevin's words and injecting them with a force that transcends the scene. Without Parks, I don't think Tusk amounts to much, but with him the film has real substance that will haunt you long after you leave the theater. Michael Parks is as much the muse to Smith as Mr. Tusk was to his character Mr. Howe.

And yet, Kevin Smith hasn't forgotten his friends who have helped him along the way. For the astute viewer, there are a plethora of Easter eggs that will require multiple viewings to unearth them all. Everything from a ringtone ripped from another of his podcasts "Hollywood Babble On" to the inclusion of Ponder Rock or the bizarre oddity of toilet paper roll covers, there are so many Easter eggs that even a casual listener of his podcasts will be impressed.

I don't want to give away too much, but this is easily Smith's most interesting film from a true filmmaking standpoint as he mixes tones and flashbacks for the first time I can remember in one of his films. At the base though, the film does have a serious point to make about what separates man from beast and whether we have truly evolved past our primate past. In many ways, it's Wallace's transformation back to beast that truly allows him to connect with his humanity.