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Archive for July, 2017

Been watching The Last Command (1955), a movie about legendary knife-wielder Jim Bowie (the great Sterling Hayden, hence my viewing) that climaxes with…well, you know.  Seems John Wayne was supposed to star, but parted ways with longtime employer Republic Pictures when prexy Herbert Yates wouldn’t let him direct it as well, which he later did on his own elephantine version of the same historical events.

I’ve seen several Alamo-vies, but it seemed like this one did a better job than some of explaining the events leading up to the siege (sort of the anti-Zulu, if you will) and emphasizing why the Texans’ sacrifice mattered.  In other words, assuming any degree of historical accuracy here, it’s not so much, “Well, we’re outnumbered and trapped and we’re all gonna die.  Sucks to be us” as it is, “If you choose to fight—and inevitably die—rather than try to escape—and probably die—or surrender, you’ll weaken Santa Ana’s army and buy time for Sam Houston [whose namesake city has been my oldest brother Jonathan’s adopted home for about 40 years] to raise his.”  Hey, I’ll get a lump in my Maudlin Man throat from that.

No formal review/synopsis—y’all know how it comes out anyway—and I am not especially familiar with the careers of director Frank Lloyd (a silent-screen vet best known for the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty), whose last film this was, or screenwriters Warren Duff and Sy Bartlett (who wrote several vehicles apiece for, respectively, James Cagney and producing partner Gregory Peck).  But holy cats, what a cast:

  • As the señorita who—too late—captures Jim’s heart after his wife’s tragic death, the charming and fetching Anna Maria Alberghetti proves she had a career before serving as the Good Seasons pitchwoman in my youth. (Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Rula Lenska.)
  • Genre star Richard Carlson (Jack Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space and Creature from the Black Lagoon) as Colonel William B. Travis, played by Laurence Harvey in Wayne’s 1960 version (which featured the formidable Richard Widmark as Bowie).
  • Arthur Hunnicutt, one of those guys you instantly recognize but (at least in my case) whose name you don’t know, as Davy Crockett. A tad less imposing than the Duke, but what the hell, I was never a big Wayne-fan anyway, and he’s pretty entertaining.
  • Up-and-coming Ernest Borgnine (later to appear in such BOF faves as Ice Station Zebra, The Wild Bunch, and Robert Aldrich’s The Flight of the Phoenix and The Dirty Dozen), who starts out looking like his typically sinister sagebrush self of the period (e.g., Aldrich’s Vera Cruz), but turns out to be an okay guy with an extra-dramatic death scene.
  • The pan-ethnic J. Carrol Naish (Sahara, House of Frankenstein, The Beast with Five Fingers, Dracula vs. Frankenstein), an interesting choice as Mexican General Santa Ana.
  • John Russell, who starred on Lawman, for which—believe it or not—Richard Matheson wrote more scripts than any series except The Twilight Zone.
  • Jim Davis, beloved of my friend Fred for his role as Jock Ewing on Dallas and, oddly enough, a fellow survivor of Al Adamson’s epically awful Dracula vs. Frankenstein.
  • Eduard Franz, best known to weirdos like me for such genre films as The Thing (from Another World) and that WNEW Creature Features staple The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.
  • Otto Kruger (Dracula’s Daughter, Hitchcock’s Saboteur), as Steve—excuse me, Stephen F.—“I Want a City Named after Me, Too” Austin.
  • Russell Simpson, another guy I instantly recognized but couldn’t name (and a member of John Ford’s stock company, e.g., as Pa Joad in The Grapes of Wrath), as the hilariously laconic Parson.
  • A young(ish) Slim Pickens, billed with Hayden nine years before Stanley Kubrick’s immortal Dr. Strangelove…in which, of course, they had no scenes together as, respectively, bomb-riding Major “King” Kong and “just a little funny” General Jack D. Ripper.
  • And, last but far from least, unbilled genre mainstay Morris Ankrum (Invaders from Mars, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Giant Claw, et military cetera).

Photographed by Jack A. Marta (an Emmy nominee for Matheson’s Duel), with a title tune composed by film-scoring pioneer Max Steiner (of that other King Kong) and warbled by Oklahoma! and Carousel star Gordon MacRae.  In short, I can think of far worse ways to spend 110 minutes.  “Remember the Alamo!”

Addendum:  Be sure to check out my substantially revised post for The Fly, featuring new material on Return of the Fly.

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What I’ve Been Watching:  Men in War (1957).

Who’s Responsible:  Anthony Mann (director); Philip Yordan (screenwriter); Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Robert Keith (stars).

Why I Watched It:  Mann and Ryan.

Seen It Before?  Yes.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10):  8.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10):  2.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10):  6.

And?  I saw this as a kid, almost certainly on WOR, and disliked it.  Revisiting it decades later, I’m not surprised.  No, not because it’s bad—quite the reverse—but because it’s the antithesis of the colorful, Kelly’s Heroes-style war movies I favored then, and still prefer, yet I hope I’m a little more open-minded now.  I think the fact that it’s among a relatively few films made about the “Forgotten [i.e., Korean] War” is a significant factor.  Fresh in viewers’ minds, the war had been over for less than four years when it was released, and its narrow focus is nigh-Aristotelian as it follows a single platoon in its attempts to reach and take a barren hill on September 6, 1950, less than three months after hostilities began.

Befitting its generic title, the film opens with the epigraph, “Tell me the story of the foot soldier and I will tell you the story of all wars,” and Van Van Praag’s 1949 source novel was rebranded as the equally nonspecific Combat in 1951.  Tellingly, the book (originally called Day Without End, as in, say, “the longest day”) was about the Normandy campaign in the previous war, yet the film also seems to prefigure the next one, at a time when we still had only military advisers in Vietnam.  In Home of the Brave (1949), James Edwards played an African-American soldier experiencing racism in World War II, yet here, when he is killed after sitting down to put flowers on his helmet, it’s hard not to flash forward…

So a certain universality was achieved, especially when you throw A Hill in Korea (1956) and Pork Chop Hill (1959)—which was in, yes, Korea—into the mix.  And it’s probably no coincidence that Philip Yordan, the credited screenwriter of this film (which you could categorize just as easily as a war movie or an anti-war movie), was reportedly fronting for the blacklisted Ben Maddow both here and when much of the same cast and crew worked with Mann on God’s Little Acre the next year.  The films share an interesting assemblage of talent that, in addition to Ryan, Ray, and Vic Morrow, includes veteran lensman Ernest Haller, who also shot his Man of the West (1958), and famed composer Elmer Bernstein.

Bernstein, whose contribution here is minimal, also scored Mann’s The Tin Star (1957), a nifty little number with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins, and interestingly, Men in War feels almost like a hybrid of the two types of films for which he was hitherto best known, noirs (e.g., T-Men, 1947; Raw Deal, 1948) and Westerns.  I regard his work with James Stewart as one of the latter genre’s best director/actor pairings:  Winchester ’73 (1950), Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953; my favorite, aptly co-starring Ryan), The Far Country (1954), and The Man from Laramie (1955).  They also collaborated on Thunder Bay (1953), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), and Strategic Air Command (1955).

The closest Mann came to my kind of war movie was in his late-career epic phase, e.g., producer Samuel Bronston’s El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), whose chariot race rivals that of Ben-Hur (1959).  I’m surprised he made the fact-based The Heroes of Telemark (1965) after its star, Kirk Douglas, had fired him from Spartacus (1960)—of which Kirk was also the executive producer—and replaced him with Stanley Kubrick, his director on Paths of Glory (1957).  Kubrick, ironically, had just parted ways with Marlon Brando on One-Eyed Jacks (1961), which its star directed; after Mann died while shooting A Dandy in Aspic (1968), it was completed by…its star, Laurence Harvey.

Morrow achieved his widest exposure as Sgt. Chip Saunders on Combat! (the premiere of which, “Forgotten Front,” was written by Richard Matheson under his pseudonym of Logan Swanson), and thus, as Cpl. Zwickley, is perhaps the most recognizable among the ill-fated platoon led by Lt. Benson (Ryan).  TV mainstay Nehemiah Persoff (Sgt. Lewis) popped up in occasional features ranging from Bogart’s last film, The Harder They Fall (1956), to the Byron Haskin/George Pal reunion The Power (1968).  Doubling as a writer-producer on The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)—again opposite old pal Strother Martin—and A Boy and His Dog (1975), L.Q. Jones (Sgt. Davis) also directed the latter, based on Harlan Ellison’s story.

When we meet them, the men have just lost their transport and are wondering how they’ll schlepp all of their gear to Hill 465, where they’re supposed to hook up with the division.  The timely arrival of a jeep driven by Sgt. Montana (Ray) is complicated by the fact that his passenger, known only as the Colonel (Keith)—of whom he is fiercely protective—is catatonic after a nearby blast.  So Benson ousts the abrasive Montana, turning the driver’s seat over to the unwell Zwickley, and orders the men to load the gear as they begin the trek through enemy territory, subject to attrition from snipers, artillery, and a minefield (used to great effect in Kelly’s Heroes), the fear of which drives Lewis into a self-destructive panic.

I’ve called Keith the poor man’s Les Tremayne, partly due to the many military men both have portrayed over the years, but I probably would’ve found a less flattering sobriquet if I’d known he was the father of Brian Keith, strike one against Sam Peckinpah’s first film, The Deadly Companions (1961).  The Colonel, sympathetic as he struggles to speak, is at least a change of pace from the obnoxious officers he portrayed in They Came to Cordura (1959) and Posse from Hell (1961). Similarly, I’ve always loathed Ray, yet while tough-guy Montana is not only unlikable but also positively trigger-happy, he is a perfect fit for the actor’s screen persona, and his devotion to the Colonel gives him added dimensions.

Reaching Hill 465, they find it in enemy hands, and the effort to take it wipes out almost the entire platoon plus the Colonel, who rallies long enough to take out a few “gooks” (as they are inevitably called) before being cut down.  At this point the film becomes almost existential as Benson says, “Battalion doesn’t exist.  Regiment doesn’t exist.  Command HQ doesn’t exist.  The U.S.A. doesn’t exist…We’re the only ones left to fight this war.”  Since Sgt. Riordan (Philip Pine) turns out to have survived, that is as incorrect as when he tells Montana—with whom he finally takes the hill, using a flamethrower—“We’ll never see the morning”; we close as they “award” the Colonel’s supply of medals to the dead…

Unsurprisingly, per Wikipedia, the military refused to cooperate with the account of such a, shall we say, dysfunctional unit and, “Unable to get tanks and military extras from the Pentagon, [the filmmakers] concentrate on the landscape,” aptly echoing the combination of internal tensions and rugged exteriors prized in Mann’s Westerns.  The location itself, Bronson Canyon, was ubiquitous in multiple low-budget SF films apiece from directors Phil Tucker—including the immortal Robot Monster (1953)—Roger Corman, and Bert I. Gordon.  Ryan, my main reason for giving this a second chance, appeared in BOF faves such as The Longest Day (1962), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and The Wild Bunch (1969).

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Department Sssssss

What I’ve Been Watching:  Sssssss (1973).

Who’s Responsible:  Bernard L. Kowalski (director); Hal Dresner, Dan Striepeke (screenwriters); Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies (stars).

Why I Watched It:  Slavish devotion to the genre.

Seen It Before?  Yes.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10):  6.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10):  3.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10):  5.

And?  I disliked this when I saw it as kid (although I was surprised not to find one of my trademark 3″ x 5″ index cards documenting that; maybe I didn’t see it all the way through, and thus had to disqualify it), primarily because it’s such a downer, or perhaps I should say “a wrist-ssssssslitter.”  Cutting to the chase, it’s about a guy who gets turned into a snake.  I misremembered—on several counts—that it ended with a shock reveal of said snake-guy on display in a carnival sideshow, a shot that I’m still convinced was a deliberate homage to the notorious “human duck” (Olga Baclanova) at the close of Tod Browning’s twisted classic, Freaks (1932)…but it’s neither the ending nor the poor protagonist, David Blake.

It’s probably more accurate to say that I’d assumed, rather than misremembered, it to be a bargain-basement production, especially coming from Kowalski, the director of Night of the Blood Beast (1958) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), who worked primarily in television and helmed the notorious bomb Krakatoa: East [sic] of Java (1968).  So it was with some surprise that I discovered it was from a major studio, Universal, and the famed Zanuck/Brown production team that, incredibly, made The Sting the same year, and went back to zoological terror with Jaws (1975).  Accordingly, it has a polished look that I was not expecting, photographed by a serial Emmy Award nominee, Gerald Perry Finnerman.

Sssssssupremely sssssssilly and sssssssorta sssssssadistic, it’s from a long line of movies in which mad scientists try to hybridize humans with other species, thus enabling ours to survive a looming threat.  In this case, ophiologist Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin) theorizes that becoming literally cold-blooded will see us through once we’ve squandered all of those increasingly scarce fossil fuels, and endeavors to prove his point with David (Benedict).  Yet while rigorously conventional in that way, the film is unique in another, marking the sole effort as writer (sharing credit with Hal Dresner) or producer of makeup artist Dan Striepeke, an Oscar nominee for Forrest Gump (1994) and Saving Private Ryan (1998).

We open as Stoner helps Kogen (Tim O’Connor) load his truck with a coffin-sized crate containing…something alive that he has just sold to the sideshow proprietor.  On a visit to the nearby college, Stoner asks pompous colleague Dr. Ken Daniels (Richard B. Shull) to extend his research grant, but it doesn’t sound very promising because he’s, y’know, a mad scientist, and their ideas rarely go down well with academia.  He also mentions that his last assistant, Tim McGraw…left rather abruptly—an illness in the family, I believe—and could he please have another, so Daniels sends him home with David, who’s hunky and amiable enough to attract the attention of Stoner’s daughter/assistant, Kristina (Menzies).

David’s not overly endowed with intelligence, though, so he’s naively acquiescent as the doc starts pumping him full of injections that give him strange dreams, and purport to be precautionary antivenom.  The Stoners, y’see, eke out a living selling venom milked from their extensive snake collection, augmented with paltry donations from local yokels who come and watch the doc risk his life dancing around with a king cobra, although probably more in the ghoulish hope of seeing him fatally bitten than for entertainment value alone.  Speaking of which, visiting the carny, David sees the, um, extremely realistic Snake Man (Nobel [sic] Craig), and you’d have to be dumber than he is not to suss that it’s McGraw.

Surprisingly, that makeup is credited not to Striepeke (who worked on four Planet of the Apes films and the TV series)—although he reportedly had an uncredited hand in it—but to the maestro himself, John Chambers, and Nick Marcellino.  Unsurprisingly, it’s really, really good, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who recalls that image more than anything else in the film, which as we’ll see is a double-edged sword.  Anyway, re-enter classmate Steve Randall (Reb Brown, TV’s pilloried Captain America), whom we’ve seen bullying David at the school and coming on to Kristina at the carnival; climbing uninvited into her window one night, he is surprised by, and breaks the neck of, one of their beloved snakes.

Although that probably violated any number of statutes, Stoner favors private justice, so he slips a black mamba into Steve’s shower.  When Daniels visits soon after, he brings two pieces of news:  the refusal of Stoner’s grant request (shocker), and the death of football star Steve from a “heart attack”; curiosity piqued by the doc’s reaction, or lack thereof, he starts to snoop around, which amounts to signing your own death warrant in such movies.  Sure enough, just after getting a glimpse of David—who’s turning progressively greener and scalier—through a window, he’s clonked on the head, awakening in the cellar where he quickly falls victim to a python, last seen as a shoe protruding from the snake’s maw.

Mindful of the fact that even Kristina might notice David’s new emerald complexion, and concerned about the ramifications of their growing attraction, Stoner has sent her off on a wild snake chase to pick up a nonexistent delivery.  She then just happens to learn of the, um, extremely realistic Snake Man and, upon sneaking into the carny after hours to check it out, is horrified to find Tim.  Meanwhile, once David has completed his transformation into an actual snake—which, alas, is a lot less visually or dramatically interesting than the Snake Man—Stoner commands “an audience” with the cobra, informing the ex-king that he has been dethroned by a new species with the body of a snake and the mind of a man.

Evidently “his majesty” doesn’t take the news well, because he bites Stoner to death, and it’s unclear whether the doc became inexplicably suicidal, or his luck finally just ran out.  Just then, Kristina comes home, and although she might reasonably be miffed at Dad for turning Tim into the consummate sideshow freak, she’s not happy to see him lying there dead, and even less so when the cobra menaces her.  A sharpshooting cop’s timely arrival ends that threat, but worse waits inside, where a frantic mongoose (which they evidently kept around just as a precaution) suddenly manages to escape from his cage and goes for the throat of her ex-boyfriend; we end with a freeze-frame on Kristina’s screaming face.

What a happy story, and admittedly unusual in that respect, although in a way, the ending is (as AllMovie critic Donald Guarisco called it) “anticlimactic” after the amazing Snake-Man scenes.  Okay, I know he’s a mad scientist, but even with that in mind, it’s difficult to understand Stoner’s plan; even with human brains, how would our reptilian successors inherit the Earth, lacking both the power of speech and opposable thumbs…or opposable anything else, for that matter?  Or are they just supposed to go back to nature?  And how, in the short term, did he think he could keep all of that a secret?  These gaping plot holes, and the casualness with which David is subjected to such horror, didn’t endear this to me.

Frequently cast with offscreen pal L.Q. Jones, and perhaps best known for his “failure to communicate” line from Cool Hand Luke (1967), character actor Ssssssstrother Martin is probably worthy of a post in his own right.  His films include such BOF favorites as Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Wild Bunch (1969), and—speaking of “Stoners”—Up in Smoke (1978).  Tellingly, I associate the supporting players most readily with genre TV series:  Benedict was Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica, Menzies essayed Jessica on the ill-fated Logan’s Run, Shull partnered with android cop John Schuck on Holmes and Yo-Yo, and O’Connor showed his benevolent side as Dr. Huer on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

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Road Movies

The Internet Movie Database lists several Connecticut locations for the 2007 film Reservation Road, including my hometown of Easton.

The Internet Movie Database lists several Connecticut locations for the 2008 film Revolutionary Road, including my hometown of Easton.

Seriously, what are the odds…?

Having heard for a decade that they’d shut down traffic on the Black Rock Turnpike (that’s Route 58 for you out-of-towners) to shoot a scene for some movie near the Bluebird Garage—where my Mom still has her cars serviced to this very day—I was naturally eager to see this little slice of local history, and thought I recalled that it was supposed to be some horrific accident near the start of the film.

So when I saw Revolutionary Road scheduled on the ol’ satellite dish, it sounded familiar, and looking it up, I confirmed Easton as a shooting location.  Taped the sucker, invited Mom and Madame BOF to watch it with me, and soldiered on alone when they politely declined.  Imagine my surprise when, once I’d finished the film, the horrific accident I’d been waiting for never materialized, although there were multiple points in the narrative at which one might have been suitable (or perhaps even desirable).

Doubting myself (as usual), I rewound at Madame BOF’s behest and was reminded that there’s a scene near the start of the film in which the protagonists (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) get into an argument while driving at night, and pull over to continue it outside the car, near some structure that, dimly and fleetingly glimpsed in the blackness, could conceivably have been the Bluebird Garage…or, really, anything else, for that matter.

“What a gyp!” says I, in the immortal words of Felix Unger.  But I compared notes with my wise and wonderful MBI colleague Barbara Lessard, whose own memory supported much of mine, so I got curious, and started Googling.  That led me to the website of the Historical Society of Easton (who knew?), according to which, “The Bluebird Garage was used in the filming of the 2007 movie Reservation Road starring Juoquin [sic] Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, Elle Fanning et al.”

So, yes, I was watching THE WRONG MOVIE.  You cannot make this stuff up.

As for Revolutionary Road, which I will not dignify with a formal review or synopsis (in a nutshell, it’s about a supremely dysfunctional couple in 1950s suburban Connecticut), I strongly disliked it on two totally separate levels.  First, it’s supposed to be a big tragedy, but as far as I’m concerned, Leo’s self-centered, casually adulterous character is such a flaming a-hole that it’s only a tragedy for Kate’s.  Second, a lot of the details of dialogue and performances just rang false for me, while the film also exemplifies a phenomenon that’s really started to bother me.

It’s established that the couple has two children, and indeed (sans spoilers) that becomes a critical plot point.  Yet the kids are only shown onscreen a couple of times, more talked about than depicted, and you never get an actual sense that they really have kids.  When I mentioned this to Madame BOF, she said, “Well, I’m sure there are families like that, where the parents don’t care about their kids.”

But she misunderstood my point, which is that a real family feels like a family, be it good, bad, or indifferent.  However the parents feel about them, the kids are (at that young age) an omnipresent and integral part of their lives, and if the film depicts that badly, as I think this one did, then you never buy that the couple ever actually experienced parenthood for a day in their lives.  The kids are more of an intellectual conceit, or a plot contrivance, than they are part of a believable family.  When Leo and Kate had sex in the kitchen one night, I was waiting for one of the kids to wander in looking for a glass of milk or something…but that never happened, because the kids might just as well never have existed, no matter what the characters say about them.

It’s actually sad, because I like the actors (also including Michael Shannon, whom Madame BOF and I saw onstage with Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne in Roundabout’s revival of Long Day’s Journey into Night, and The GREAT Kathy Bates) and the director, Sam (American Beauty) Mendes, who not only was wed to Winslet—hey, how’s that for alliteration?—at the time but also, ironically, went on to direct two of the better late James Bond films, Skyfall and Spectre.

Interestingly, I see that the source novel (which, holy cats, my idol John Frankenheimer wanted to film, and then opted to do The Manchurian Candidate instead; talk about a “What If?”), mired for decades in Development Hell, was published in 1961, just after the period portrayed, at which time the material would presumably have felt more fresh and relevant.  Wonder if the advent of Mad Men, which I see premiered in 2007, was a factor in the story’s finally reaching the screen.

Your, uh, mileage may vary.  But I now have to be on the lookout for Reservation Road, which also promises to be (as my Dad so memorably predicted of the scene from Bergman’s Winter Light in which pastor Gunnar Björnstrand must inform Gunnel Lindblom of husband Max von Sydow’s suicide) “a barrel of laughs.”  Bradley out.

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Disclaimer:  This post is more ramble than review, and presupposes some familiarity with the material; read at your own risk.

So, Kevin Smith.

I noticed that the Starz networkz were having a bit of a Smithapalooza, and since I’m a sucker for that sort of thing (e.g., I fired up the VCR when they just showed Beverly Hills Cop 1-3 back to back), I decided—despite some trepidation—to edjicate or, as the case may be, re-edjicate myself a bit.  After all, the guy’s made a bunch of successful movies, so I thought that as a cineaste, I should perhaps have a slightly better handle on his oeuvre.

The main things that interested me about the Smithapalooza, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, were Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II.  I remembered seeing Mallrats and Chasing Amy, and dimly remembered liking at least the latter, but didn’t feel I needed to revisit those.  I knew, of course, that the micro-budgeted Clerks put him on the map, for better or worse, and even though I was pretty sure I remembered disliking it when I saw it some time ago, I thought—with typical Matthewness—that revisiting it and seeing the sequel all at the same time made some kind of sense.

I was also hazily, ha ha, aware that Smith had spun off some supporting characters into JASBSB, and that the film contained some element of Hollywood parody (always a draw for me), but was unaware of this whole View Askewniverse “shared mythology” thing until I started viewing and reading up a little on his work.  The Starz guyz showed Clerks I & II back to back, but knowing that JASBSB was made in between, I studiously watched in sequence.

Well, you won’t be surprised to learn that I H-A-T-E-D Clerks (again, apparently).  It was so relentlessly crude and crass and gross, and the characters so uniformly unsympathetic—putting it mildly—that I came close to abandoning the entire enterprise partway through.  But that’s just not my style.

So, were those off-putting qualities absent from JASBSB?  Hell no.  Yet they were leavened by several factors:

  • Comic-book stuff (like the whole Marvel-derived View Askewniverse concept itself), centered on JASB’s Bluntman and Chronic alter egos.
  • Metacinematic stuff, e.g., Miramax-ribbing and cameos by actors and/or characters from both inside and outside the Askewniverse.
  • Obviously, Star Wars stuff, like Carrie Fisher’s drive-by or Mark Hamill’s character getting his hand cut off and saying, “Not again!”
  • More of an actual plot, most notably the diamond-heist stuff (with, yes, hot chicks) that put one foot into my beloved caper-movie camp.
  • Will Ferrell, whom I used to hate, but who has been steadily winning me over with offbeat stuff like this for several years now.
  • The closing scene where JASB actually get their favorite band, Morris Day and the Time, to play at their after-party; I’m also a sucker for such cameo appearances.
  • And I kinda hate to say it, but I enjoy writer-director-editor Smith’s work on the other side of the camera as not-always-Silent Bob.

By that point, I didn’t go into Clerks II with total dread, more in a spirit of intellectual curiosity about what to expect from this crazy guy next.

So, were those off-putting qualities absent from Clerks II?  Hell no.  Yet they were leavened by several factors:

  • Honest-to-God production values, which moreover were introduced in a clever way:  they replicate the impoverished B&W look of the original when Dante goes to open the Quick Stop, and then as he raises the shutters and sees it’s on fire, the flames usher us into color.
  • The “Moobys” parody of McDonald’s, admittedly an easy but always satisfying target.
  • The Lord of the Rings stuff that helped flesh out Elias’s uber-nerd persona.
  • Dante’s fear over having to dance at his wedding, something to which I could relate profoundly.
  • The friendship stuff.  I loathe “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” not least because it seemed so jarringly anachronistic in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, yet its use in the Go-Kart interlude was perfect, making that a great vignette.  And however much I differ from the two protagonists in so many ways, much of Randal’s climactic dialogue (especially “Why, because I enjoyed what I did?  I got to watch movies, f*ck with *ssh*les, and hang out with my best friend all day, can you think of a better way to make a living?  Yeah, maybe it wasn’t what everyone does, but it was pretty f*cking good”) made me reflect on the good times my now-closest friends and I had while working at Penguin USA, as opposed to the largely friendless environment at, ironically, GoodTimes Entertainment, the closest I’ll ever come to an actual dream job.  It also made me wonder what it would have been like if, say, Tom—who, amusingly, had a diametrically opposite reaction to these films—and I had grown up together instead of meeting later in life.  Hey, just call me Maudlin Man.

But you know what the single biggest compensatory factor was?

ROSARIO DAWSON.

Looking over her filmography, I notice first with a chuckle that she made her debut in Larry Clark’s Kids, which I hated even more than—but for many of the same reasons as—Clerks, and second that I have seen several of her early films (e.g., He Got Game, Men in Black II, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, 25th Hour, Shattered Glass), some of them admittedly out of chronology, without being particularly aware of or recalling her presence in them.

But she hit me like a brick in Sin City, so much so that I was pleasurably jolted to see her in Death Proof, and between those and Rent, I realized she’s the entire package:  drop-dead gorgeous, musical, and equally capable of kicking your ass or melting your heart.  And speaking of kicking, her role in Clerks II kicked that flick up an incalculable notch, both demonstrating her willingness to be, shall we say, unconventional and contributing to a happy ending.

So, am I now a kommitted Kevin Smith fan?  Nope, and I probably never will be, due to those omnipresent off-putting qualities.  But at least I now know him to have far greater depth than Clerks would suggest, and for that reason alone am glad I decided to take the plunge and see it through.

Title-related but otherwise random addendum:  R.I.P. Jonathan Demme (1944-2017).  Stop Making Sense is my favorite concert movie ever, and instantly made me a Talking Heads fan forever, thus enriching my life incalculably.

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