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Film review: ‘Tusk’ (#WalrusYes)

TUSK

Justin Long and Michael Parks star in Kevin Smith’s “Tusk.” Photo courtesy of A24 Films.

Here’s the bottom line: “Tusk” kind of blows. But. I understand why it blows, and I even appreciate that it blows.

I attended a screening of the film at the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood, after which director Kevin Smith explained and giggled about his latest horror-comedy.

I’ll try to keep it brief about the actual movie, because the actual movie is not really the point of this movie. The story follows an obnoxious podcaster, Wallace (Justin Long), who travels from Los Angeles to Manitoba, Canada in search of a subject for his next broadcast. He meets with Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a retired adventurer who is looking for a lodger to share his isolated mansion. Howe begins telling fantastic stories of his various journeys until one thing leads to another and it becomes clear that he intends to butcher Wallace, sew him into a suit made of human skin and make him live as Howe’s personal walrus companion, Mr. Tusk. You know how these things happen.

There are a handful of laugh-out-loud funny scenes, but “Tusk” never really gets creepy enough. I was expecting special effects makeup artist Robert Kurtzman’s Leatherface-style walrus suit to be pretty disturbing, but it was just a disappointment.

“Tusk” features some amazing collaborations with other artists, though. Parks is excellent throughout the film. He is equal parts dignified and unhinged, and he appears to take the role incredibly seriously, which is a feat in itself. Johnny Depp appears as French-Canadian private investigator Guy Lapointe, and both Depp’s and Smith’s teenage daughters make cameos as convenience store clerks, which is cute. The icing on the cake is the soundtrack, which includes Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” (of course), as well as a maudlin closing track recorded for the film by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.

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Director Kevin Smith speaks at the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood after a screening of his horror-comedy “Tusk.” SCREAMfmLondon

So, no, the movie “Tusk” is not very good. Like, at all. Not at all. I don’t really have any desire to ever watch it again. But the story behind it is interesting, electrifying and inspirational.

The tale of “Tusk” began a little more than a year ago during an episode of SModcast, the podcast that Smith hosts with his friend Scott Mosier. It starts with an offhanded observation that a joke real estate listing sounds like the premise for a horror movie and turns into about an hour of speculation and laughter about what that horror movie would look like. And now here we are with the fully-realized thing in our actual midst.

It’s not very often that someone happens to record and broadcast the exact moment they conceptualize what will go on to become a major motion picture. With “Tusk,” Smith makes the filmmaking process completely transparent, from the original inspiration to the fleshing out of a plot, through production and culminating with a finished product. He shows the audience that creating isn’t such a difficult process: you too can turn a stupid idea into a stupid reality if you work hard enough at it.

The overall message to take away from “Tusk” is that you should have faith in your stupid ideas. Bring them to fruition. Who cares if other people think they suck? That’s fine. At least you did something you wanted to do. Lots of things suck, and some of them could be yours if you set your mind to it.

I didn’t even like the movie, but I still left the theater feeling incredibly excited about all the stupid dreams I have to pursue. As Kevin Smith told us during his Q&A session, we’re all going to die. Might as well make a goofy horror movie with your friends. Why not?

‘Tusk’
Release Date:
Sept. 19, 2014
Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror
Rating: R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content.
Grade: D+

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Drag roundup: Trannyshack LA at The Dragonfly

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Toxic Waist performs at The Dragonfly in Hollywood. SCREAMfmLondon

It was my birthday, and a drag queen clocked me in the head with a cauldron during a dramatic reenactment of “The Silence of the Lambs.” So, that happened.

Trannyshack LA was the scene of the aforementioned cauldron incident. For the record, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intentional; she was just generally throwing a cauldron, and my head was in the line of fire. Story of my life.

Since 1996, Heklina has hosted Trannyshack, a regularly-occurring drag event in San Francisco. It’s become a relatively big deal over the years, and the event occasionally takes the show on the road — to LA, for instance.

On May 31, Heklina emceed the event at the Dragonfly Bar in Hollywood. It was one of the last of her events to use the name “Trannyshack” before making the switch over to “T-shack” (at least in the interim). She addressed the issue onstage, explaining that the ultimate point of her show was to be inclusive, and that includes eliminating language that makes others feel oppressed. Although the use of transphobic words has been a divisive issue in the drag community in the past few months, Heklina handled it professionally and with a good attitude. Right on.

As for the show, it was pretty tame (save Toxic Waist, who closed the evening with a great Leatherface-in-a-jockstrap number during which the audience was sprayed with fake blood).

My favorite act was Devan M., who performed a high-energy routine in a “Phantom of the Opera”-style half-face mask and cape. I really appreciate the added androgynous factor of bearded drag queens such as Devan. The trend of wearing facial hair while in drag has been gaining momentum recently, likely influenced by RuPaul’s phenomenal hair and makeup artist Mathu Andersen and by Conchita Wurst, the Austrian drag queen who won the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest.

More traditional drag performances came from Ambrosia Salad and Killer. The “traditional” element of Ambrosia’s act being the lip-sync to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” not necessarily the sexy Jesus backup dancers nailed with glittery blood to “YOLO” crosses. Killer brought out a great long-form Judy Garland impression, and there can never be too much Judy Garland.

Also impressive was Cupcake Canne, who performed a “Black Swan”-themed routine entirely on pointe. Although it’s really difficult to see anything that takes place low to the stage at a drag show because everyone in the crowd is about 20 feet tall in gigantic heels and hair.

The special guests of the evening were rapper Cazwell and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Manila Luzon, who joined him onstage for their duet, “Helen Keller.” Cazwell performed “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King,” which is somehow the weirdest, catchiest song in existence. (My favorite verse is “She was looking around for some customer service. / I walked up to her, made her security nervous. / She said, ‘How much for a case of beer?’ / I says, ‘Girl, are you drunk? I don’t work here!’”).

The rest of Cazwell’s set was okay. Meaning, he played “Ice Cream Truck,” and it was the first time I’ve listened to that song without watching the accompanying video. I’m not sure that song should even exist separately from the video.

All head injuries aside, I’m really glad I attended. I feel like this is a pivotal time for drag, and I’m excited to watch the evolution of mainstays such as “the club formerly known as Trannyshack.”