Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back

Kevin Smith can be a frustrating filmmaker with his perplexing sympathy for jerky, philosophical misfits and his annoying fondness at times for overwritten, unnatural dialogue.  He crams so many thoughts and ideas into his character’s brains, it’s a wonder they don’t speak at the speed of Scorsese.
 
In Clerks, his remarkably ambitious, black and white debut, he introduced us to Dante, a variety store employee, and Randal, his obnoxious best friend who works the video store next door.  Over the course of a single day, we learn of their undying contempt for customers, Dante’s implausibly active love life (two women want to be with this jerk?) and their insatiable desire for small talk.  It was smart and sometimes funny but felt more like an exercise than a real movie.  The needless sequel is far worse.  In just a matter of minutes, Randal officially becomes "audience repellent", to use Bill Brioux’s great phrase, and single-handedly sinks the movie.
 
Mallrats, Smith’s dreadful follow-up, introduced us to two more smart-ass losers, Brodie, a prickly comic book collector, and his friend, T.S.  Both deservedly get the heave-ho from their beautiful girlfriends at the start which makes the rest of the picture, where they both plot a way to win them back while carrying on one forced conversation after another, a long, tedious waste of time.  It’s easily the least funny and least credible Smith film. 
 
Ben Affleck plays another unlikeable protagonist, a smug comic book artist, who falls hard for a beautiful, intelligent lesbian who’s far too good for him in the overrated Chasing Amy.  And please don’t get me started on Jersey Girl.
 
So just when I thought Dogma would be the sole Kevin Smith film worth recommending (despite its annoying fundamentalism), along comes Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.  Released in August 2001, it promotes the two most entertaining supporting characters from his first four films to lead roles.  Long resistent to the idea of a full-length stoner comedy, Smith surprisingly finds his comic rhythm here in what is easily his funniest work to date.  No clunky dialogue this time.
 
As you may recall from Clerks, Jay (Jason Mewes) and his "hetero life mate" Silent Bob (Smith minus the glasses but with longer hair) are pot dealers who hang outside the Quick Stop variety store.  Jay’s the hilariously oversexed, big talker while the facially expressive Bob speaks only when absolutely necessary.  He makes the economical Clint Eastwood seem overly chatty by comparison.
 
Our strangely lovable heroes are the inspiration for an underground comic called Bluntman & Chronic (co-created by Affleck’s character in Amy), a Batman & Robin parody which has been optioned by Miramax Films (who good-naturedly distributed this movie through their horror subsidiary, Dimension).  After getting arrested for dealing outside the Quick Stop, which inspires Randal from Clerks to seek a restraining order against them, they visit a comic book shop owned by their friend, Brodie (Jason Lee’s character from Mallrats).  When he informs them of the B&C movie, they’re upset about not being properly compensated.  So they pay Affleck a visit where he shares more troubling news.  He sold his B&C rights so he can’t help them out and anonymous Internet critics of the duo are bashing them relentlessly on moviepoopshoot.com.  None of them are looking forward to the movie.
 
Suddenly nursing bruised egos, they ignore Affleck’s sensible advice on cashing in on the movie, and decide to make the journey to Hollywood in order to sabotage the production.  In their minds, if the movie gets cancelled, their reps will be saved.  There’ll be no reason for anyone to hate them anymore.  They have three days to make it happen. 
 
Along the way, they inadvertently get mixed up with a gang of hot chicks who claim to be animal rights activists but are really jewel thieves who love dressing like Catwoman.  One of them (played by the charming, bespectacled Shannon Elizabeth) develops a crush on Jay who falls for her the minute he sees her.  Without realizing it, our heroes are being set up and soon, they’re on the run with Suzanne, the orangutan they rescue (who we first met in the very last scene of Mallrats).  Hot on their trail is the very funny Will Farrell.  He’s a dimwitted Federal Wildlife Marshall who would prefer being an FBI agent, but is incapable of getting past his own stupidity.  He’s a strangely sympathetic character despite being a total screw-up.
 
Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back is benefitted greatly by terrific cameos.  Look for self-deprecating turns from people like Mark Hamill, Jason Biggs, James Van Der Beek, and most especially, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (yes, he also plays himself).  To hear the latter two goof on each other’s flops is fantastic.  To see them sell out spectacularly as they shoot a scene for their goofy Good Will Hunting sequel is funny stuff, as well.  (Recently, they’ve been good sports about being "fucked" by Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman.)  It’s difficult not to respect movie stars like this who are so willing to shred themselves with brutally satiric material again and again.
 
The movie is funny from start to finish despite numerous plot contrivances.  Honestly, how did the sweet Elizabeth ever get accepted into that gang?  How can Ferrell confuse an animal for a small child?  How are Jay And Silent Bob able to have a light saber battle with a game Mark Hamill when those effects are always added in later during post-production?  How can no one know what they look like when they have their own comic book?
 
The good news is you’re too busy laughing your ass off to care.  We get plenty of cheeky sex and drug humour, that’s to be expected, but the funniest material involves movie parodies, most especially the fearless digs aimed at Miramax who must have the thickest skins in the world to allow Smith to hammer them as hard as he does.  Good sport that he is, he takes humourous hits of his own.
 
However, we could’ve been spared the thankfully brief presence of Seann William Scott.  (He’s more creepy than funny.)  Also, some of Chris Rock’s "I hate Whitey!" routine gets old very quickly.  Nonetheless, this is a star-studded spectacle that ends up being more fun than expected.  Eliza Dishku and Ali Larter, two beauties frequently misused in movie after movie, are solid villains here who clearly relish their screen time.  Judd Nelson (who I initially didn’t recognize), George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Tracy Morgan and Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) all make the most of theirs, as well.   Very few jokes actually bomb.  This is definitely a Sore Jaw Comedy.
 
Ultimately, though, if we didn’t care about Jay And Silent Bob and didn’t connect with their senses of humour, the movie wouldn’t work.  Thankfully, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith pull through with solid performances.  Now, how about a sequel?
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 24, 2008
1:39 a.m.
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Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 1:40 am  Leave a Comment  

More U2 Reissues Coming Soon

The Joshua Tree was only the beginning.
 
Last week, U2 announced on their website that they were re-releasing their first three studio albums.  Newly expanded versions of Boy, October and War, all Steve Lillywhite productions, are to be released July 21st.  (Curiously, however, amazon.com says the first two are arriving June 10th while the last one is out June 24th.)
 
Like the band’s superb 1987 blockbuster, these latest reissues will be available in several forms.  First, there’s the standard, remastered single-disc version.  Then, there’s the “deluxe double disc” edition, and finally, for the old school, vinyl pressings.
 
Personally, it’s the 2-disc sets I’m most interested in.  Besides getting the original albums with, hopefully, better sound, we can expect expanded liner notes (including the long lost elements of the original record packaging) and bonus discs of added material.  A number of B-sides recorded during this period have never been available on CD before (a grand total of two can be heard on The Best Of 1980-1990 & B-Sides) which will most likely make each of these items highly prized.  Plus, it will be great to hear some material that’s never been officially released in any form before.
 
God knows this is long overdue.  The CD track listing for Boy needs a correction (there are 10 songs, not 11), a number of songs on October are far too hissy and it will be great to have complete lyric sheets for all these original numbers, not just a few.
 
I haven’t heard the special deluxe edition of The Joshua Tree, which was released last year.  For some annoying reason, you can’t find it in record stores.  (I’ve only seen the single-disc version which I don’t want.)  Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to securing copies of all four of these special editions.  Here’s hoping they’re better than the originals I have.
 
U2.com notes that more information about these latest re-releases is forthcoming.  Bring on those expanded track listings.  I can’t wait any longer.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 18, 2008
12:49 p.m.
Published in: on April 18, 2008 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sherri Wood Benefit Concert Proposed

She would’ve been 29 today.
 
Sherri Wood died of brain cancer late last month and while she is greatly missed by family, friends, the music business, work colleagues and readers of The Toronto Sun, it is abundantly clear she won’t be forgotten.  In fact, an interesting idea has been publicly proposed as a way of honouring her memory and dedication to covering music.
 
On March 31st, former Toronto Sun TV Critic Bill Brioux talked about how the suggestion of a benefit concert came up among mourners during the day of Sherri’s funeral on his TV Feeds My Family Blog.  He even pitched a possible name for it:  Sherri Woodstock
 
“‘Sherri Woodstock’ needs a venue, bands, promotion, a driving force. Knowing Sherri and her daily lust for tea, the whole things [sic] should be sponsored by Starbucks. The hope would be that a music festival could help raise money for brain cancer research. It would also be a wonderful way of celebrating her warmth and embracing spirit,” he wrote.
 
“If you are involved in the Toronto music scene and would like to offer suggestions and advice on the best way to push this all forward, please leave a comment [on his website] or reach me at tvfeedsmyfamily@rogers.com.”
 
Late last night, Bill launched a Facebook group called – what else? – Sherri Woodstock.  He’s encouraging members of the website to join, offer ideas for the concert and to check in for progress reports.  Click here to check it out for yourself.  (Bill writes about the group on his Blog here.)  As of this writing, 20 people (including myself) have already signed up.  Here’s hoping more take up the cause and help make this benefit concert a reality.
 
Bill’s suggestion is to make it all happen this summer.  It would be great if it turned into an annual event and not just a one-time deal.  Personally, it would be a real coup if Coldplay, one of Sherri’s favourite groups, agreed to headline.  That would be a huge boost to getting other acts to participate.
 
One thing’s for certain, however.  That proposed name, Sherri Woodstock, probably won’t stick.  The name, Woodstock, in reference to the famous concerts of 1969, 1994 and 1999, is trademarked by Woodstock Ventures.  Chances are they wouldn’t be keen on their name being used without their prior permission.  Furthermore, they’d probably want some kind of monetary compensation for its use.  (Plans are underway for a fourth concert to commemmorate the 40th Anniversary of the original festival next year.)  Surely, there is a name that can be chosen that would avoid a potential legal mess like this, something memorable, appropriate and commercial.
 
At any event, Bill could sure use some help with this.  Join his Facebook group, send him some helpful email and let’s see this thing take shape this year.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
6:04 p.m.
Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 6:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Neverending Story III

Every movie star has a film in their back catalogue they wish they never made, a film so bad they hope no one would have the nerve to maintain its availability.  I’m willing to bet that in Jack Black’s case, that film would be The Neverending Story III.
 
Made in 1994 but released briefly in North America two years later, this is the sequel that effectively killed off a franchise that wasn’t particularly inspired to begin with.  In the silly and dull 1984 original, we were introduced to a troubled kid named Bastian who learned to find solace from bullies and the death of his mother through an unusual novel.  In the forgettable but slightly better 1991 follow-up, he entered the setting of that same book to do battle with a sorceress.
 
Number three essentially begins the same way as number one.  Bastian (now played by Free Willy’s Jason James Richter) is once again being chased by a small group of bullies.  He manages to lose them by slipping into his school’s library where he encounters Koreander, the same damn, crusty book lover who owned the little bookstore he discovered during a similiar chase in the first movie.  Wouldn’t you know it, he manages to find The Neverending Story, too.  As he reads it, we learn about all the events that led up to the hallway chase sequence.
 
Bastian’s widowed father has finally remarried and his new stepmom has a daughter of her own.  Her name’s Nicole and good lord, is she an obnoxious little bitch.  Not terribly pleased about the new members of her family, she spends much of this tedious sequel making her new stepbrother feel like monkey turds.  If you look up "unpleasantness" in the dictionary, you’ll find her picture.
 
Back to the present.  Those bullies, nicknamed The Nasties, have found Bastian’s hiding place and the chase is back on.  But Bastian gives them the slip again by transporting himself back to Fantasia, the setting of The Neverending Story.  Unfortunately, the book is left behind which inspires the leader of The Nasties (yep, Jack Black) to have a little fun at the new kid’s expense.  Too bad he has no imagination when it comes to villainy.
 
While in Fantasia, Bastian reacquaints himself with several supporting characters from the earlier installments in this series as well as one new face.  We once again encounter the constantly bickering little gnomes, the rock family, and Falkor, the luck dragon.  Then, there’s Bark Troll, a Jackie Mason-ish tree who must’ve been conceived in the Borscht Belt forest.  They all make the journey to see The Child Empress (played by then-twentysomething actress Julie Cox) in The Mountains Of Destiny in order to find out how to stop The Nasties (or The Nasty, as the bullies are sometimes oddly called) from continuing to wreak havoc on their cheap-looking land.
 
The Empress gives Bastian her wish-powered necklace but he can’t will himself back to the real world without the assistance of his Fantasia pals.  As a result, the baby rock, the gnomes, the unfunny tree and Falkor all find themselves just as out of place on Earth as Bastian does.
 
The Neverending Story III is tirelessly stupid, completely unfunny and consistently irritating.  Watching it, you can’t help but wonder how The Nasties are able to be who they are so freely without any serious repercussions for their inane behavior.  In fact, at one point, they actually do get expelled (or was that just wishful thinking?) and yet, there they are on school property enjoying the moment when Bastian opens his locker and gets a wet surprise.
 
Meanwhile, what the hell happened to Falkor?  Whatever positivity he had in the previous chapters has long disappeared in this disaster.  The decrepit-looking creature has developed a cowardly lion persona which makes no sense.  In fact, logic has taken a dirt nap in this wholely unnecessary sequel.
 
Black looks like he walked off the set of Full Metal Jacket.  And what’s with that unibrow?  He receives a considerable amount of screen time here.  But thanks to a wretched screenplay, he’s reduced to making dead serious glares and occasional fits of overacting.  Like everybody else on-screen, he has no compelling material to work with and is left withering in the wind.
 
This is a cold, stale, worthless family film.  It remains a mystery how it ever managed a theatrical release.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, April 7, 2008
11:53 p.m. 
Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stop Firing Movie Critics

The late Pauline Kael said it best:  “In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information.  The rest is advertising.”
 
One wonders what the longtime New Yorker film critic (who died in 2001) would say today about a recent, troubling development:  the gradual, systematic extinction of movie reviewers.  David Carr of The New York Times reports that numerous critics have suddenly disappeared from their dream beats, to borrow the much-missed Gene Siskel’s phrase.  With America in another recession and the newspaper business in serious decline, respected voices like David Ansen of Newsweek, Gene Seymour of New York Newsday and Nathan Lee of The Village Voice have either been laid off or accepted buyouts.  A little while ago, Quebecor, the largest publisher of dailies in Canada, decided to retain all the reviewers from The Toronto Sun while sacking the rest from its sister papers.  All in all, it’s a sad state of affairs.
 
Love ’em or hate ’em, critics in general play a crucial role in democratic societies which makes their growing disappearance so alarming.  In fact, there are three compelling reasons why it’s important they continue to get paid to espouse their strong views on entertainment in newspapers, magazines, on the Internet, the radio and Television.
 
First and foremost, they are consumer advocates.  They screen the dreck so you don’t have to.  Imagine yourself willing to pay to see garbage like Freddy Got Fingered, Big Momma’s House 2 and any dreadfully unscary horror film you can think of at ten bucks per screening.  Terrifying, isn’t it?  But imagine how more terrified you would be if there was no way of knowing beforehand how bad these Hollywood disasters truly are?  Without word of mouth from professional screeners, trailers would be your only insight into a film’s potential.  And we all know how misleading ads for upcoming movies can be.
 
A critic can’t always persuade you of what to see and what to avoid, but when you find a discerning voice you trust, you’re not so willing to waste your money on formula schlock.  Sometimes, no critic will convince you to avoid that movie you’re dying to see.  But if you have doubts about parting with a ten spot, a strong pan can make all the difference in saving you that money.
 
Secondly, critics are tastemakers.  Because they screen and grade pictures before they’re unveiled to the public, they provide the initial feedback.  If you’re an independent filmmaker with a possible sleeper on your hands, across the board raves from reviewers is better publicity than any high-falutin’ marketing campaign.  Just ask Billy Bob Thornton.  In 1992, he co-wrote and starred in the great One False Move.  It was a very small movie and needed a real boost not only to convince someone to distribute it but also to get moviegoers to come out and see it.  As he told Entertainment Weekly in late 1992, “My hero used to be Davy Crockett but now it’s Siskel and Ebert forever.”  The two Chicago-based critics raved about the movie to the point where it ended up on both their year-end Top 10 lists.  As a result, the film made under 2 million, pretty good for a low-budget thriller, and Thornton would go on to win a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his terrific Sling Blade.
 
Finally, they are talent scouts.  When a new face stands out with a strong performance, critics are the first to take notice.  When Tigerland was issued in 2000, Colin Farrell, the film’s star, received many positive reviews for his acting.  That led to other well-reviewed projects like Minority Report and The New World.  Like Billy Bob Thornton, Farrell is still very much in demand.  And as many actors will tell you, he’s not the only one who’s benefitted from critical respect.
 
Thanks to critical praise from people like Roger Ebert, directors like Martin Scorsese have also gotten a tremendous boost.  When Ebert predicted great things for the Italian-American Oscar winner after seeing his first film, Who’s That Knocking At My Door?, which is worth checking out by the way, Scorsese went on to make Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation Of Christ, Goodfellas, a remake of Cape Fear, The Age Of Innocence, Gangs Of New York, The Aviator and The Departed.
 
Sadly, movie critics continuously get shit on far too often by those who don’t understand how important a role they’ve always played in public life.  Thin-skinned entertainers have long resented the terror of the pan.  No one likes having their efforts dismissed in a few hundred words.  But even they have to acknowledge that a scornful assessment of their work at least draws attention to it.  Studios disagree.  More and more, we’re seeing certain titles bypassing the press screening process in order to have at least one good weekend at the box office.  On Ebert & Roeper, it was getting so bad that a new feature was introduced called The Wagging Finger Of Shame, complete with cheesy echo.  Whenever they talked about a title that wasn’t available for a pre-release screening (and therefore, couldn’t review on the show), Ebert would furrow his brow, look directly into the camera and like a hypnotist rotate his finger back and forth in a disdainful manner.
 
It’s not been a particularly good period for truth whether we’re talking about politics or entertainment.  But the climate will get far gloomier if more and more critical voices are snuffed out.  The message is simple:  Stop firing movie critics.  They’re needed more now than ever before.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 6, 2008
4:24 p.m.
Published in: on April 6, 2008 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment