Monday, July 31, 2006

Slacker redux?

When I first heard that Kevin Smith was making Clerks 2, I was immediately sure it was going to be a bad move. I mean, how the hell do you make a sequel to a movie about slackers, in which nothing of importance happens? And how the hell do you make it over a decade later? I thought for certain that it would either be a total retread, with similar gags but no spark of originality or creativity (Blues Brothers 2000) or it would be even goofier than the original, like many of Smith’s later movies. Clerks somehow worked because it was simultaneously shallow and deep: on one level, it was about the antics of a pair of wage slaves with a few pop-culture references for good measure; on another, it was like an anthem and a rallying cry for a generation of slackers trapped in retail jobs without the slightest idea how to move up in the world or what they would do when they got there. Shit or get off the pot! Would Kevin give us that magical mixture again?

Turns out, yeah.

Kevin Smith has been all over the place, what with romantic comedies, adventures in Catholicism, and Carrie Fisher dressed as a nun. Clerks 2 goes right back to the source of Smith’s popularity—not only by returning to Dante and Randall, but by revisiting the themes of the first film. Once again, our dear clerks are working shitty jobs, with Dante trying to maintain at least a veneer of responsibility, and Randall not giving a shit and loving it (and somehow not getting fired). Jay and Silent Bob hang out selling drugs for most of the movie, doing little to advance the plot (until the deus ex machina at the end, but that’s forgivable). No shit-monsters, no Chris Rock, no La Fours. Classic Clerks action.

But Clerks 2 is no retread. The audience is introduced to new characters, including a hilariously sheltered young Christian named Elias. More importantly, our clerks have changed in the past decade. Well, Randall is as flippant as ever, but Dante has changed. He’s got prospects now—a rich fiancé and a promise of a home and a job in Florida. But he’s also got more ties in Jersey than he realizes.

I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here, but like the original, Clerks 2 does have messages. At first, we’re inclined to support Dante as he finally gets ready, in his 30s, to leave the world of clerking behind for good. Randall, we believe, is hopeless—lacking ambition or in fact any concern beyond goofing off. But, the film asks, is that such a bad thing? All around us is the message that “growing up” means a stable marriage and a house with a white picket fence—but is that for everyone? Do we seek it for ourselves or because we’re told that we should want it? Or is a lack of ambition just a sign of self-satisfaction?

All these conflicts—Dante vs. Randall, Dante vs. himself, Elias vs. his own horribly repressed upbringing—come to a boil during the infamous donkey show scene—the same scene which prompted Joel Siegel to walk out of the world premier, bitterly cursing. Once again, Dante’s future seems to be ruined, and it looks like it’s Randall’s fault. What follows isn’t a vicious convenience store fistfight, but a true catharsis. Randall’s flippant exterior is finally cracked; the two achieve greater mutual understanding (in a totally hetero way), and thanks to the inexplicable assistance of Jay and Silent Bob, a happy ending is snatched from the jaws of improbability.

Though the ending is rather contrived, I honestly cannot see that this movie could have wrapped up any differently than it did. If the film had ended without a resolution, it would truly have been a retread. If the film had ended with Dante going to Florida, it would have violated the film’s entire message. If Dante had just said “fuck you, Randall,” and took off on his own, well, that would be a huge downer.

If Kevin Smith plans to “retire” Jay, Silent Bob, and his other characters from Leonardo (which would probably be a smart thing to do), he probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting closer than Clerks 2: a return to the beginning, but also a true dénouement to Dante and Randall’s aimless existence. Bravo, Kevin. Thanks for the ride.

It's All About The Passion

There is a certain cadence associated with any proclamation of passion.
You can’t just say “IREALLYLIKEMOVIESALOT!” if you really like movies a lot. Most people who are passionate about anything, I mean really passionate, I’m talking dress up like your favorite character and go get said characters autograph at the local convention style passionate, will have string of words to explain their obsession that are more passionate than all the comic book references that Kevin Smith could ever hope to shit out. You could ask me “Why do you like movies Justin?” and I would proclaim “They allow me to escape reality and let me live in the collaborative conscience of a small group of individuals for a short window of time. Movies are quite possibly the most accessible conveyor of art, message and/or opinion anyone could ever hope for!”. Well stated and meaningful, to an extent.

Sure I gave you a reason, but what the hell does that mean?
I just listed off a string of big words I probably don’t understand very well, but why did I do that? Did I do it to make myself sound smart? Well, maybe a little bit, but the over riding reason for my spew of vocabulary is passion. When you bring up movies I can barely contain my excitement for talking about them. It’s really the only time I can’t shut up. I’m a pretty quiet dude, but bring up movies and I’m dropping more science than Einstein falling down stairs.

So the real reason I yelled about movies is that I love them so much that any string of words can be used to justify why I like them because like most passionate people, I really have no solid idea on why I’m so passionate or even what initially made me so passionate. Sure I’ve managed to cobble together an explanation after being a movie dork for years and years, but what would have been my answer to the above question 5 years ago? I dunno, something less smart sounding I’m sure.

The thing about being passionate is that you really can’t pinpoint where and when you first became passionate. There’s no magic moment, passion is a slow process, One day you’re watching Star Wars with your buddies the next day you’re fighting a stranger with plastic swords while waiting in line to see a movie. What the hell happened in between there? When did you go from relative indifference to full-fledged nutball? About the time you met Jeremy Bulloch when you were 12 and gave him a drawing of Boba Fett and actually believed him when he said he would hang it up in his study? Or maybe it was when they re-released the original trilogy to theaters in ’97 and you and your dad paid to see Episode 4 and then snuck into screenings of the other 2 movies? Or maybe it was when you convinced your dad to drive you to Toys ‘R Us at
midnight to buy the new Episode 1 figures? To tell you the truth, there’s no way for me to really know what made me fight a stranger with a plastic laser sword, or illegally view Episodes 5 and 6 or walk out of Toys R Us with 100 dollars worth of plastic men at 1 a.m. on a school night.

This vagueness applies to all kinds of passion, even with love. I couldn’t really pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with my fiancé. I could tell you when I realized I loved her, but it was just recognition of a feeling I’d been having for a considerable amount of time. The same thing applies to my passion for movies. I didn’t know I was passionate about movies until I looked at my DVD collection one afternoon and realized that with every paycheck over the past 6 months I’d purchased at least one DVD. At that point I had over 100 DVD’s, now it’s closer to 400. I’ve slowed down on my buying but the passion is still there.

What I’m really saying is how can you be sure how much you love something until you spend your last 75 dollars on an out of print Criterion Collection Robocop DVD? Until all you have is zero money, zero life and the manifestation of years of dorkitude sitting in various boxes and shelves around your bedroom, you have no possible idea about who you are, or what you’ve become.

Let me explain the concept of “zero life”. When every waking moment is saturated in the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into being a Movie Dork, then you have zero life outside of the context of movies. You go see movies with your friends, you talk with your friends about movies, you buy movies and eatdrinksleepshit movies. When you get to the point where you can’t remember the last conversation you had that didn’t somehow involve movies, then you’re a dork.
(the biggest culprit in destroying non-movie conversation is the classic line “that reminds of me of the scene from *insert movie here*”).

Being a Dork is in no way a bad thing. You might call it a geek or a dweeb or even a nerd, but the concept is still the same. Dorks, true dorks, are living breathing databases of knowledge gleaned from years upon years of near freakish obsession with the most minute details of their own personal love. A true Dork has more passion in their finger than even the most promiscuous of the Don Juans who troll clubs at night looking for their next lay. Waxing your mustache and shaving you’re chest is not passion. But feeding you’re dog Exlax because it ate your Boba Fett figures plastic missle is.

Despite all of our social obstacles and boundaries, I think that we’re living in somewhat of a Dork Renaissance. Dork Culture has saturated many facets of society that it was once thought no dork could ever reach. A-List Hollywood actors are champing at the bit to get themselves attached to the next superhero project. Robot Chicken is being watched by millions and popularizing the action figure dork underworld. Special Editions, Collectors Items, Directors Cuts are flying off the shelves! What better time to be a dork than right now?

There’s never been a better time, so let your Dork flag fly. Wear your “Han Shot First” shirt in public. Spend half of your paycheck on Comic Books. Go to 4 different Wal-Marts in a 24 hour period looking for the exclusive Marvel Legends Giant Man series! Consider this the opening shot of Star Wars. Horns blaring! Yellow text flying! We are the imperial cruiser that is chasing down the Tantive IV of mainstream acceptance! Guess what fellow Grand Moff’s? We have the Rebel ship.

p.s. I swear to god that isn't a picture of me.