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Archive for July, 2017

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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