A Look Back: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

“There’s a script for this movie?” – Jason Biggs in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” is one of those films in which it is required that viewers possess a working knowledge of the Kevin Smith movie-verse which includes his previous four works. It incorporates a plotline from the very first film “Clerks,” uses a large portion of previous characters/actors, including ones playing themselves, and not only breaks the fourth wall, but the fifth and sixth as well. Actually it quickly demolishes any walls between the audience and the viewer (with the same amount of force used in the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” MTV video), uses enough cuss words to choke an elephant and even repeatedly disses Miramax, the company that produced the film. (I can’t recall if there’s any potshots at Harvey Weinstein, but there is a hooker joke aimed at Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who play themselves.)

A quick run-down on how it lines up with the previous quartet of movies is difficult, but nevertheless I will try.

Clerks” is a film that if you see someone at your place of work mutter, “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today,” they have probably viewed at least once. In “Clerks,” convenience store employee, Brian Halloran, has a bad day at work, not helped by the drug dealing duo, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself) hanging out outside the door. It turns out that they were brought there as young kids by their moms and never retrieved, so there’s one mystery solved. After Brian gets a restraining order, the two are forced to move on, so they head for a comic book store where they discover that a Hollywood movie is being made from the comic book strip characters they are based on, created by Jason Lee in “Chasing Amy.” However, the duo is being stiffed when it comes to reaping royalties. Anyway, after receiving a crash course in Internet use, Jason and Kevin log on to read movie reviews and are enraged that most are negative, if not downright derisive. Thus they decide that it’s time for a ROAD TRIP.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Kevin’s character is mute? Now having three mute characters on a road trip in the adorable Disney film “The Incredible Journey” wasn’t a drawback because there were voiceovers for the two dogs and cat, but here Kevin relies on body language at which he is excellent. We do get to hear him speak later in the film, but for most of it, Jason does the heavy lifting voice-wise – and often manages to completely floor whoever he’s speaking with (or at) with the jaw-dropping amount of vulgarity. But some characters manage to parry back, which includes the four young women (Eliza Dushku, Shannon Elizabeth, Ali Larter and Jennifer Smith) who give Jason and Kevin a ride en route to Hollywood. They’re on a journey of their own, a double jewel heist/liberation of test animals at a lab, and after their first fall guy (Seann William Scott) decamps, they happily recruit Jason and Kevin. The quest goes awry, however, resulting in Kevin and Jason taking custody of an orangutan, which puts them in the crosshairs of a Federal Wildlife Marshal (Will Ferrell), which requires that they pose as a gay couple in order to outwit Will. Eventually, they do make it to Hollywood.

(Note: Jay and Silent Bob are not actually gay but self-described “hetero life partners.” The joke is at the expense of the characters, not actually gay people, according to no less an authority than Kevin Smith himself. Watching Jason pronounce multi-syllabic words, as opposed to profanity, is in itself hilarious, regardless of what they are, trust me.)

Once on the Miramax lot, Kevin and Jason manage to track down Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek, who are playing the movie roles Bluntman and Chronic, based on the Jay/Silent Bob comic book duo. With help from the orangutan, they receive a sound drubbing, and then the two meet Chris Rock, who is playing a race-conscious director of the “Bluntman” movie. They also meet Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who are shooting a sequel called “Good Will Hunting 2” (Tagline “It’s Hunting Season.”) Ben and Matt reference “Dogma,” another Smith movie. Oh, the hilarity. But soon all the “crackas with guns” as Chris puts it, descend on the set, causing mass confusion. However, all ends well with a performance of Morris Day and the Time. Because why not?

(Second note: Kevin Smith did make a sequel to “Clerks,” which has a scene featuring a barnyard animal that caused members of my audience to walk out. Actually they left way before that scene, but the rest of those who stayed had a blast. It’s tempting to imagine more sequels such as “Jay and Silent Bob Visit the White House,” or perhaps “Jay and Silent Bob in Outer Space,” but because only Kevin is truly capable of capturing the zaniness of these characters, these suggestions are best relegated to fanfiction.)







Movie Review: The 15-17 to Paris

British satirist Saki once wrote a story called “The Toys of Peace,” in which the well-meaning but ultimately clueless uncle of two preteen boys attempts to steer them into less-bloodthirsty play by buying them a model municipal town for a gift. When asked what they are supposed to do with it, he suggests holding a “jolly” mock election – only to return awhile later to find that they are (again) staging a war-related scenario. This story came to mind about fifteen minutes into Clint Eastwood’s “The 15-17 to Paris” when I saw the three main characters in their younger reincarnations frolicking in the woods after school with toy guns. (When I was that age, inspired by “The Great Brain” books, I longed for a genuine “repeating air rifle,” which my parents were relieved to realize couldn’t be bought at our local K-Mart or Kay-Bee Toys.) As the film continues, it becomes clearer why two of the characters wind up going into the military – it’s not the pleasure of indulging in violence primarily, but the inner desire to one day have the chance to become a hero. Unlike the recently-released “Winchester,” the villain (Moroccan Ayoub Ellahazzani) is clear-cut – an individual, not a weapon itself so there’s no time wasted on scapegoating something that only works when used by actual human beings.

“The 15-17 to Paris” tells the story of three selfless young men – Airman First Class Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and college student Anthony Sadler – all starring as themselves – who stopped a terrorist on the titular train while they were vacationing in Europe. They first meet in middle school and bond over their fascination with war and weaponry. While many adults in their orbit throw up their hands in bafflement or scold them for behavior that used to be considered simply being an energetic kid, they do have a history teacher, Jaleel “Hey, kids of the eighties, it’s Urkel!” White who feeds their passion by giving them military maps. After they grow up, we see most of the screen time go to Stone, as he fumbles around for a career, suffering disappointment and setbacks along the way, until he finds a niche. Eventually, the three (via Skype) decide to reunite in Europe and spend time hanging out in Amsterdam among other places, until they board that fateful train to Paris. At first their journey is uneventful, but when Ayoub finally appears after spending an inordinately long time in the bathroom with weaponry strapped to him, the trio, plus another passenger, Chris Norman, manage to subdue him and provide first aid to a wounded passenger until they reach the next station. They are subsequently rewarded for their heroism with highest honors by the French president.

The 15-17 to Paris” not unique in having the main characters play themselves, but perhaps is for them agreeing to reenact what must have been a truly traumatic experience. Like “Hacksaw Ridge,” the movie is well worth seeing and a valuable reminder that even the most ordinary people have the capacity to become heroes – as long as they persist with their dreams.




Could You Be A Character in a Teen Rom-Com? Quiz

Do you have what it takes to be a character in a Hollywood teen romantic comedy? Take this quiz and find out!

1. It’s the beginning of your senior year in high school. Your priorities are as follows:
a) Getting into a good college; making memories.
b) Grades, extracurriculars, friends, love interests.
c) Losing your virginity. As soon as possible!

2. Your single parent is having romantic issues of his/her own. Your response is:
a) “Gee, that sucks. Maybe you should find a hobby instead.”
b) “Don’t come crying to me. I have enough on my plate as is.”
c) “Oh no! Let me concoct a plan to fix you up.”

3. Your best friend challenges you to a bet that you can make the most unattractive guy/girl in your school popular. You respond:
a) “Are you feeling okay? Have you been taking any unusual medications?”
b) “Of course not; that’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
c) “Sure, why not! I’ve just been dumped by my steady, so this way I can get even.”

4. Your best friend is of the opposite sex. Therefore he/she is the perfect:
a) Shoulder to cry on.
b) Ear to unburden yourself.
c) Person to practice kissing with (even though they have almost as little firsthand experience as you do), and even chauffeur you on a date with Mr./Ms. Unattainable.

5. When Mr./Ms. Unattainable finally asks you out and brings you to a raucous house party attended by most of the school, you respond by:
a) Finding someone you vaguely know and making polite conversation.
b) Eventually retreating to the host’s parents’ den to play games on your phone.
c) Drawing a clown face on the girl who always humiliates you and who is currently passed out drunk, then cannonballing into the host’s pool from the second story window because it’s not like you ever have to go back to school with these people or anything.

6. When your popularity with your peers starts to skyrocket as a result of dating you-know-who, you respond by:
a) Behaving pretty much as you always have – after all, aren’t most of your peers kind of acting like hypocrites?
b) A surge in your self-esteem, but you still make time to hang out with your other unpopular friends.
c) Ditching your old friends faster than a hot potato and pretending you’ve always been popular.

7. Your parents are going away for the weekend, and you have an interview scheduled with your first choice college. You respond by:
a) Putting aside the bulk of the weekend to prepare and make sure you’ll be right on time for starters.
b) Going out briefly to relax, but then getting home with enough time to prepare, etc.
c) Taking the advice of the call girl you’ve just met to run a one night house party/brothel, so that you completely forget and when the interviewer arrives, tank the entire thing.

8. Your love interest seems to be spending an awfully lot of time in the vicinity of wherever you go, even when there’s absolutely no reason. You are _ by this behavior.
a) Concerned – you decide to monitor this situation lest it get out of control.
b) Alarmed – you consider contacting the authorities.
c) Charmed – this is deeply flattering that he/she can’t be separated from you for more than a few hours. How adorable is that?

9. Your love life lately is just too confusing, and you have no idea how to handle it. You _.
a) Ask a peer for advice.
b) Ask someone older who probably has experienced the same thing.
c) Read the assignment your sympathetic English teacher has given and discover remarkable parallels between it and your own life.

10. You have been asked to the prom, but at the last minute, plans fall through. You spend the night _.
a) Eating junk food and watching old movies.
b) Going out and doing something fun with a similarly single friend.
c) Putting together a hideous homemade outfit, then going to the dance anyway just to make sure your classmates know they didn’t break you.

11. You have been asked to the prom, and you make it there okay, but then you get crowned Prom King/Queen. You _.
a) Graciously thank your peers for voting for you.
b) Thank them, but secretly are grateful that school’s almost over.
c) Make an impassioned speech about values and end by breaking the crown and throwing little pieces to random attendees.

12. Your love interest gets angry at you and decides on the spur of the moment to fly to Europe and attend art school. You ___.
a) Let them go – either they’ll get over it or not.
b) Send them some form of communication wishing them luck – why not be gracious?
c) Follow them to the airport, and hold up the flight by making a speech about Finding True Love.

Did you answer mostly c)’s? Then congratulations, you have what it takes to be a character in a teen rom-com. But please don’t try those responses in real life.


Movie Review: Winchester

In the movie “Ordinary People,” the therapist (Judd Hirsch) upon learning that his patient (Timothy Hutton) who is still grieving the tragic death of his older brother, wants to be in more control, promptly schedules him for two sessions a week because “control is a tough nut to crack.” The doctor character (Jason Clarke) in “Winchester” is also a fan of people taking control of their fears by acknowledging that it’s simply a state of mind. However, when he is given the assignment of assessing the Winchester rifle heiress’s (Helen Mirren’s) mental state to decide whether or not she is still capable of running the company, Jason finds that he has a few unresolved issues of his own that make him ideal for the job of aiding Helen. But he has stumbled into a horror story of Gothic proportions that will take much longer to resolve than he initially expects. Control is indeed a tough nut to crack in “Winchester,” and by the end of the movie, a great deal will have cracked – from literal building foundations to assumptions about the supernatural. The viewer’s credibility regarding the plot may also be a casualty.

Helen lives in a mansion in San Francisco that is perpetually under construction so one suspects there might be some friction with her closest neighbors – although perhaps not, as she seems to reside where rich, elderly eccentrics always reside in these sorts of movies – in the middle of nowhere. The builders, as Jason soon learns, hammer and saw away merrily 24-7, seemingly unfazed by Helen’s insistence that there be a certain number of rooms in order to imprison the spirits of the deceased who keep pestering her. Here Helen lives with her fiercely protective single niece (Sarah Snook) and recently orphaned nephew (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey). Helen is every inch the imperious matriarch who insists that Jason kick his laudanum habit and be truthful with her – this includes Jason recounting his own death experience and his deceased wife’s own “visions.” She would also prefer that Jason stay in his room at night, but surprisingly this does not occur. Jason is one of those textbook scary movie guests who insist on snooping around at night, and then, if you can imagine, insisting that maybe Finn, who is starting to display alarmingly violent behavior, be treated elsewhere. Jason’s past makes him – spoiler alert – able to see ghosts, so soon he is more sympathetic to Helen than he expected.

One of the spirits who is haunting Helen, due to the fact that guns kill an awful lot of people, is a deceased Confederate veteran, who raises a ruckus during the climactical night, and dispatching him is apparently the key to getting the others to behave. I noticed that “Winchester” has a slightly lower rating than “Fifty Shades Freed” at Rotten Tomatoes, this may be because of scenes like the one in which Jason and Helen manage to subdue the veteran (at night, of course) and his fellow wraiths, after much mayhem in which they have the following exchange:

Helen Mirren (triumphantly): “There. He’s locked in.”
Jason Clarke (after a long moment): “And so are we.”

“Winchester” is apparently inspired by real events, though to what extent, I don’t know. It started me wondering about say, the heirs to Pepperidge Farm or Nabisco – what if they become haunted by all those people whose lives were shortened by years of consuming sugary sweet carbs? Because, like guns, snack foods can be used for either good or evil purposes. Why do some spirits refuse to accept that life occasionally involves being in the wrong place at the wrong time? What about all the animals that Winchesters dispatched – why aren’t they haunting Helen, too? Obviously, “Winchester” doesn’t address those questions, it’s best viewed as a typical Hollywood horror movie, neither more nor less.

A Look Back: Donnie Darko

In this world, there are optimists and pessimists. The latter can be exemplified by naysayers who you can imagine most of their pronouncements followed by an invisible Glum Trombone. Optimists, however, can be as extreme as say, Robin Williams in the movie “The World According to Garp,” in which he gives the green light to buying a house after a plane flies into it as the odds of that reoccurring have just dropped dramatically. In “Donnie Darko,” the main character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, also has that occur to his bedroom – his reaction is not as uncomplicated as Robin’s, but hey, at least he wasn’t in it at the time.

“Donnie Darko,” which begins with the protagonist being informed that the world will end in 28 days, had the grave misfortune (and tasteless irony alert) of being released in theaters following 9-11; surprisingly, it did not do too well, and was in fact, almost released straight-to-video. However, it garnered admiring reviews and cult status once it did arrive on DVD. It’s a movie about which the director, Richard Kelly, wanted to make something personal about growing up in the eighties – while a more conventional person might do as John Hughes did and focus on the painful but all-too-real world of adolescence, Kelly adds such touches as giant demonic rabbits, apocalyptic floods, etc. and intersperses them between dance performances set to Duran Duran and house parties. It’s a movie I saw and then was greatly relieved to read that Roger Ebert didn’t understand what the heck it’s all about either. If you have seen it and managed to fit everything together into a plausible thesis, you are way smarter than me.

In the movie, Jake plays a troubled high school student who gets an imaginary friend early on – the aforementioned rabbit – and it’s nowhere as comforting as the adorable little girl that follows Russell Crowe around in “A Beautiful Mind.” His parents (Holmes Osborne and Mary McDonnell) are understandably concerned that their son is taking nocturnal rambles that don’t involve alcohol or a girlfriend (though that will change) and send him to a therapist (Katharine Ross) who throws the whole array of cures – talking, hypnosis, meds, etc. – at Jake in order to cure him of his “hallucinations.” His two sisters, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Daveigh Chase, seem pretty well-adjusted for their ages, and the parents seem functional, so perhaps it’s curable, who knows? The rabbit, Frank, however, is the kind of “friend” who encourages mayhem and antisocial acts – such as arson to Patrick Swayze’s home, but that turns out to have a silver lining (Patrick himself has been engaging in antisocial acts).

So all sorts of weird things keep happening to Jake, such as the ability to go to parties and see watery Slinkies emerge from the chests of the guests (these turn out to be timelines), although he does manage to find a girlfriend (Jena Malone) who was the go-to actress for troubled teen girlfriends for a period. Jake’s mother is guilted into chaperoning her daughter’s dance troupe for a trip with the ominous words: “I’m beginning to doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion,” because if the end of the world is coming, you really need to get your priorities straight. But in the context of the film, this makes as much sense as anything, and eventually, there are multiple deaths and the revealing of who “Frank” really is  – but the whole thing turns out to have been a dream. Or has it? If you think that ordinary adolescent drama onscreen is too boring and predictable, then try “Donnie Darko” instead. Otherwise you may watch the credits shaking your head.

Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

Before the curtain actually unfurled (metaphorically) for “The Greatest Showman,” my audience was treated to a dual appearance of the real actors – Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron in an onscreen cameo – who thanked us all for coming to the actual theater to see the show. This also happened when I went to see “Eddie the Eagle,” another shamelessly feel-good film about the Importance of Believing in Yourself, Being Yourself, and Following Your Dream No Matter What. It was nice, though, to have Hugh and Zac acknowledge that yes, there are still people willing to brave the elements to venture out and spend money on what’s essentially a big budget afterschool special. But like with “Eddie,” I succumbed to the shameless heartstring-tugging and had a good time. In fact I was reminded more than once of what humor columnist Dave Barry once said about Disney World that you must have a good time. Anything else is simply not allowed.

In the movie, Hugh plays P.T. Barnum, the son of a dirt poor tailor, who falls in love with an adorable upper-crust girl when he’s a lad, who then grows up to be Michelle Williams who he marries despite the stringent disapproval of her father. So already he has something to prove, but for awhile, he flounders around trying out careers that just don’t seem to go anywhere, though they do have two adorable little girls of their own, so the necessity of making a decent living is crucial. One day, Hugh buys a wax museum – like the famous Madame Tussaud’s, only Americans are more interested in having living freaks. So Hugh puts out a call for unusual individuals, to put it nicely, and soon amasses a group who take New York by a storm with their three-ring performances. Soon, too, Hugh winds up with even more enemies, though the common people love his act – there’s a humorless, highbrow journalist who keeps sneering at Hugh for being a fraud, high society snubs Hugh and his family for being tacky, plus there are mobs of protestors outside every show – the only thing that’s missing are hats saying “Make America Freakish Again.” To help, Hugh wisely hires Zac Efron, a playwright who falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist (Zendaya) – you can see him thinking, “Get me a veteran of Disney TV pronto” – to the horror of his high-toned family, and even with heaps of prejudice and small-mindedness, it appears things are going great.

Still, despite Michelle’s wise words about ignoring the naysayers and snobs, Hugh still feels inferior, so in a quest for respectability, he hires an opera star (Rebecca Ferguson) to add some class, but that only results in one of those manufactured movie misunderstandings – in the end, everyone pulls together after a disaster and triumphs. Their ultimate solution, of course, “Let’s put on a show!” is a tried-and-true one, at least in the movies, and as anyone who has lived through the eighties knows, the power of song and dance is often enough to overcome racial prejudice and other daunting obstacles. We are the world, and we are the children, so let’s make it a brighter day, etc. and anyway it’s nice to see that Zac still has the chops to burst adorably into song at any time.




A Look Back: Some Kind of Wonderful

According to the biography, “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried,” by Susannah Gora, acclaimed director John Hughes was far from an outcast in his youth, but at one point, he bemoaned to his dad that he wasn’t as popular as he’d like, to which his father apparently responded along the lines that it didn’t really matter because in a few years, he wouldn’t see any of his classmates ever again. When we are young, we often lack the ability to project ourselves into the plausible future, so it falls to the adults around us to provide a reality check.

I myself can relate to this anecdote because when I was a teenager wanting unattainable (material) things that seemed necessary in the present, my parents also tried to take the long view with me. As in, “Absolutely not. That money is in the bank to pay for college.” Had I done what Eric Stoltz attempts in “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and blown my entire savings on a gift to impress my crush, who might well just be using me, they would have been upset. To put it mildly. However, luckily Eric and the other film characters exist only onscreen, plus it’s a Hughes movie, so there is – spoiler alert! – a happy ending.

In the movie, Eric plays a blue-collar teen who is both a skilled auto mechanic and an aspiring artist, which makes him unpopular with his peers – his only real friend is the tomboyish, from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks Mary Stuart Masterson, an aspiring musician herself. (As in many Hughes’ movies, Eric is also in conflict with his dad who wants him to go to college – and do something more practical than art.) Of course, in this case (and as the movie replicates the year before in “Pretty in Pink) this may mean that Mary possibly has unrequited feelings for Eric (that she hasn’t admitted even to herself). To complete the love triangle, there is a popular girl in their class – played by Lea Thompson – who Eric has unrequited feelings for. However, things change when Lea has conflicts with her jerky boyfriend (Craig Sheffer), and she agrees to a date with Eric. This turns out to be a potential set-up for humiliation at the hands of Craig and his buddies, but Eric decides to go through with the date anyway – with Mary as his chauffeur – plus purchase the aforementioned gift (diamond earrings) for Lea.

Well, in the real world, this would be a recipe for disaster, but again, things work out in a way that satisfies the viewer – but also, it’s worth noting, in a way that “Pretty in Pink” conspicuously did not. In that movie, Mr. Unattainable (Andrew McCarthy) not only stands up to his rich, douchey friends, he gets the girl (Molly Ringwald), while her quirky best friend (Jon Cryer) gets the consolation prize – an ending that occurred only after the original in which Molly/Jon wind up together was soundly booed by the test audience and subsequently changed. In “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Mary and Eric ultimately wind up together, while Lea decides to “stand alone for the right reasons.” This ending was apparently satisfactory enough to pass the test audience test, and which also thrilled me as a teen. In the real world, most of us have to wait until after high school to reap the benefits of being ourselves and find someone who is worthy of diamond gifts, but in Hughes’ world you can have it all as a teen – at least for one magical night.