As promised a few times before, this edition of Retrospective Reviews comes from a personal desire to revisit my past. Specifically, my past as a major Kevin Smith fan. Smith, who helped usher in the low budget indie film boom of the mid-1990s, was a huge presence in my life when I was younger. First being exposed to his View Askew productions via Comedy Central airings, I soon became addicted to not only his films, but his Evening With Kevin Smith live shows, audio commentaries and eventually podcast network until… I wasn’t. I’ve gone on length about this over at OneOfUs, but that was over a year and a half ago. Now, I’m finally revisiting his films from a mature (well, slightly more mature) perspective to see how they age. This’ll be the first part of a three part series on this, which’ll hopefully be consistent over the next week or two. So, let’s start from the beginning…
2/19/16: Clerks. (Re-Watch)
Clerks, the film that started Kevin Smith’s eventual empire of film geekery on a rather humble note. At the time of release it helped spark a revolution in independent filmmaking. Now, it’s still clearly a film of its time, but one with a universal theme of youthful stagnation and self loathing that continues to be a relatable angst. It’s a portrait of a time and place on a geek cultural level and speaks from the perspective of someone who had true experience in retail, mainly due to the small yet telling details of the grind or slackerly behavior that resonates. Sure, the dialogue doesn’t seem extremely realistic, allowing characters to go on lengthy diatribes about geeky topics and getting an elaborate answer from an average customer. Yet, that attention to detail, starkly limited camera movement and amateur level of the performers all gives Clerks the necessary authenticity to allow for a suspension of disbelief for such dialogue, which is still hilarious and smart enough to call out character’s actions as petty when necessary. It’s an excellent example of showing that exhaustion can often cloud perspective and potential in a way that still speaks to modern 20 somethings still stuck in a rut. Plus, the dialogue also helps build the idea of this small town community where people know each other, giving us the impression that Brian O’Halloran’s Dante and Jeff Anderson’s Randall are real people stuck in an authentic environment that would breed oddities like Jay and Silent Bob. Even after over 20 years, Clerks speaks to the mindset of young adulthood with consistent relevance.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Salsa Sharks
2/19/16: Mallrats (Re-Watch)
Mallrats served as an early gateway into Smith’s works for many who hadn’t seen Clerks and it’s easy to see why. It’s a more commercial effort, with a modest budget that allowed for elaborate slapstick and a heftier cast of misfits for geeks to relate to. Yet, unlike Clerks, Mallrats shows far more of its age over twenty years later. This isn’t as much due to specific language that’s tossed around, but mainly in the attitudes of its characters. Despite Jason Lee’s commitment, the rather ill tempered, violent and childish behavior of a Brodie makes him far less appealing as a funny geek character the audience is meant to find endearing, one that could understandably be refreshing to its era but now comes off as rather spiteful and arrogant. This ends up effecting other characters, including his cloying relationship with Rene (decently played by Shannen Doherty in her heyday) who only seems to go with him because Shannon Hamilton (the first appearance of Ben Affleck in a Smith production) is more excessively violent and sexually insistent for the sake of a rather underwhelming comedy antagonistic relationship between him and Brodie. Plus, TS Quint is an unremarkable counter to Brodie thanks to Jeremy London’s limited emotional range and rather underwhelming chemistry with Clare Forlani. The best moments come from Mallrats‘ side characters, particularly Joey Lauren Adams in a charmingly spunky minor role and Michael Rooker as a vindictive authority figure worth trouncing. Jay and Silent Bob, who were enjoyable side characters in Clerks, have a more cartoonish aesthetic that would morph into their prime mode over the years and is only occasionally enjoyable in between the rather awkwardly stage pratfalls that show Smith’s true limitations as a filmmaker early on. Yet, Mallrats is at least watchable for some of the enjoyable early Smith dialogue diatribes… but less so when involving Stink Palms and pretzels.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Kids Stuck on Escalators
2/19/16: Chasing Amy (Re-Watch)
With Mallrats, the issues of datedness reflected poorly on the characters from a very surface level given the rather silly tone of that comedy. Chasing Amy is very much a film of its time, but one that has a genuine sincerity that shines through its archaic views on sexuality and gender. Said views are mainly expressed by our lead male characters Holden and Banky, both of whom are heterosexual males from 1997 that clearly have little experience with non-cis related forms of sexuality. While the mixture of Holden’s naive yet well natured concern and Banky’s dismissive vague acknowledgement are prominently featured, the film’s more honest view of sexuality is still coming from Alyssa. She initially seems like a mere guide to show Holden the ways of the other side of sexuality, but her character is more nuanced than that. She wants to educate Holden, but she’s far more concerned with her own fluid sexuality that evolves in ways that frustrate and excite her, with all of this being conveyed wonderfully by Joey Lauren Adams. Ben Affleck and Jason Lee show off their early charms, though Lee’s is more focused on somewhat deconstructing the hostile behavior of his Mallrats character that feels natural. Jay and Silent Bob even decry their previous versions in the titular scene of the film that gets to the core of Chasing Amy: paranoia over a significant others’ romantic past can only lead to ill conceived notions of inadequacy and bone headed moves to those who are uneducated. That lack of understanding in terms of sexuality is sadly still quite relevant, but so is the fluid nature of sexuality. In many ways, Amy will eternally have one foot in the past and another in the present as human sexuality continues to become more and more accepted as a non-binary concept, which makes the film resonate far more than even Smith would have anticipated nearly two decades ago.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Scar Stories
2/19/16: Dogma (Re-Watch)
Dogma is a film that likely wouldn’t be made by a modern studio system. Even at a $10 million budget, a hard R rated character driven dramedy about religious dogma with healthy doses of drug, sex and fart jokes would conceivably be a risk, as made evident by the eventual death threats that came Miramax and Kevin Smith’s way during production. Yes, even though its a film that features a giant poop monster, Dogma is one of the better examples of (relatively) mainstream religious satire in recent cinematic history. It takes the type of doubts people have about scripture and contemplates why they’re there, giving Heaven and its practices relatable flaws and quirks that endear us to a seemingly otherworldly concept. Smith’s penchant for dialogue and a willing cast that varies from View Askew reuglars Jason Mewes to esteemed greats like Alan Rickman grounds even the silliness of these situations to a believable cohesive world, particularly with affective turns from Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Linda Fiorentino. Their efforts even manage to make up for some of the admitted budget limitations that limit the potential scope. That being said, Vincent Guastini’s effects work here is far more consistent, particularly the use of practical angel wings. It all amounts to a chancy but sincere examination of religion that has far more heart to it than anyone would ultimately expect from a man who makes his living on dick and fart jokes, which would be a recurring factor in even Smith’s most misguided efforts.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Head Shattering Words From God