ReView Askew: Clerks III (2022)

In February of 2018, immediately after performing at a live event in Glendale, CA, Kevin Smith started to feel very unwell very quickly. It turns out he was suffering a massive heart attack, and was immediately shuttled to a hospital to clear a total blockage from one of his arteries. He tweeted about it as soon as he could from his hospital bed (of course), learning that his medical issue is referred to as “the widow-maker” in how severe it is, and how slim one’s chances of recovery are. Smith had performed one of a scheduled three shows that night, and if he had carried on with the other two as planned and not received medical attention, he almost certainly would have died. It’s certainly an incredibly sobering event to go through, one that Smith really took to heart (so to speak…), re-evaluating his entire life up to that point, and how he would carry on after being given a second chance. He had already written a potential script for a third Clerks, but he ended up scrapping it in favor of a version more reflective of what had just happened to him and his new outlook on life, on looking back and looking forward. For better or worse, Clerks III became one of his most personal films, where the line between Kevin Smith and the characters he’s writing is blurred the furthest its ever gotten.

The other major origin source for this film is “Clerks: Sell Out,” the unproduced Clerks: The Animated Series feature film, which would have featured Dante and Randal making a movie at the Quick Stop. I don’t know Smith ever started writing a script for it, but I can only imagine it would have contained a lot of the same behind-the-scenes jokes, cameos and callbacks that we also see in Clerks III, maybe in a more absurdist fashion, since it would’ve been based on the cartoon. If it had actually come out in the 2000s, a movie about the making of Clerks would have been kind of cute, almost like a companion piece to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a double feature love letter by Kevin Smith to his original characters and the world he created over his first five films. But now in 2022, Smith has basically strip-mined every last bit of his filmography, his podcasts, even his own personal life to use as source material and joke fodder. Dante and Randal’s seemingly final outing becomes a celebration of Clerks, done by a filmmaker who literally has not stopped talking about Clerks since he made it almost thirty years ago. It’s a movie that feels both overbearingly somber and absolutely frivolous, trying so hard to be poignant and give its characters a final dramatic arc, but refuses to let them have any real growth since their entire existences are locked down to just the previous two movies. While Clerks II ended on a hopeful, though uncertain ambiguous note, Clerks III ends this epic trilogy with a blunt hammer swing to the face. Continue reading “ReView Askew: Clerks III (2022)”

ReView Askew: Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)

In the thirteen years since Clerks II, Kevin Smith’s career made a number of different turns, and to go over each of his ensuing films would be pretty exhaustive. I think the most influential event for him in that time was the birth of the SModcast, a podcast hosted by Smith and longtime producer and friend Scott Mosier, where they would basically talk for hours on end about whatever was on their minds. Its popularity would eventually lead to even more different podcasts hosted by Smith, forming the SModcast podcast network. Now the man who could never stop himself from talking in interviews and live events had a brand-new outlet to gab on and on for multiple hours a week on various different shows he’d co-host with Mosier, Jason Mewes, his wife, Ralph Garman, and more. Kevin Smith had built his career upon writing scripts filled with characters who were pretty much all versions of himself, communicating his likes, his dislikes, his theories, his profane thoughts, and so forth. Sure, there were stories and characters involved, but they were all basically vessels for Smith’s personal thoughts on things. But now he didn’t need to spend months making a multi-million dollar movie to broadcast his feelings on a certain subject. All he needed was a microphone, and he could record a podcast and release it that day to his thousands of fans. Podcasting proved to be the perfect creative outlet for Smith to express himself, so what did he need to keep making movies for?

The 2010s is when Smith’s filmography starts to get weird, as he surprisingly started to dip into the horror genre. First was Red State, a movie Smith had written for a while, and one I was very intrigued by: a thriller featuring antagonists based on the Westboro Baptist Church, the extremist religious hate group best known for picketing anywhere they’ll get media attention with their “God Hates Fags” signs. I remember being disappointed by the movie, but it’s been forever since I’ve seen it. As well as being a big departure for Smith thematically, Red State was also the first film he financed on his own, as he pretty much divorced himself from the major Hollywood system after this. Without needing to cater to a mass audience outside of his fans anymore, Smith could basically get away with whatever weird shit he wanted. Enter Tusk, a movie born entirely from a joke. The premise (a horror film about a man who gets turned into a walrus) started as a dumb bit Smith and Mosier came up with during an episode of SModcast, with Smith calling up his fans to tweet #WalrusYes if they wanted them to really make the movie. So, of course, his listeners happily endorsed him, and he actually went through it. Tusk, and its ensuing spin-off Yoga Hosers, were movies that acted as even bigger inside jokes than Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, as they were filled with easter eggs and references to Kevin Smith’s different podcasts, as Smith was more or less embracing that whatever he makes, be it film or podcast, he’s doing it for his already well-insulated fans who will understand and rejoice at any obscure callback he tosses in. This leads us to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, an in-joke stuffed inside another in-joke, a movie made exclusively for the Kevin Smith faithful, even more so than Strike Back was. I saw this in theaters when it came out in a room filled with View Askew-heads, complete with a surprise appearance by Kevin Smith to introduce it, and the audience absolutely ate it up. It’s the absolute ideal setting to watch this movie in, as even though consciously I didn’t think it was very good, I still found the entire theater experience to be pretty positive. And after seeing it again, I’ll say that that was probably the only context you should watch this movie and not want to turn it off after the first half hour, if not earlier. Continue reading “ReView Askew: Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)”

ReView Askew: Clerks II (2006)

After Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith was ready to walk away from his Askewniverse and try something new. His next film was Jersey Girl, starring Ben Affleck, a recent widower who has to deal with raising his daughter alone after his wife (Jennifer Lopez) dies in childbirth. A new father at the time, this was clearly inspired by Smith’s own experiences with parenthood. As I was getting into Kevin Smith movies in high school, I watched this one too, and didn’t really care for it. From what I recall, it felt like just a nondescript dramedy, with Smith’s unique hallmark writing touches either dulled or not present at all. It even ends with Affleck racing through traffic to get to his daughter’s school play, one of the biggest cliches in the book. The reaction was not great. It barely grossed its budget (making it a bomb, considering marketing is typically double that), and critics were less than kind to it. Some of the blame for the audience rejection of the film was laid on “Bennifer,” and the general public’s exhaustion of the endless media coverage of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez’s relationship. They only dated for two years, but it seemed like the two of them were absolutely everywhere at the time. A year prior, they starred together in the infamous box office disaster Gigli, and finally officially split up after Jersey Girl finished shooting. Smith even reduced Lopez’s part in editing in response to Gigli‘s failure, but it didn’t really affect much. Affleck was kind of in the doldrums through a good part of the 2000s, until revitalizing his career as a writer/director with the likes of Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

Most likely the deepest cut of all for Smith in the fallout of Jersey Girl was reaction from his fan base, who were largely not pleased. It seems understandable on the surface; while Smith was a husband and new father, a huge chunk of his fans were still younger teens and twenty-somethings, so a drama about having a kid was going to be a tough sell for them, let alone a PG-13 movie with very little of the stuff they love from his previous works. Smith was in a tough position. He had “officially” concluded the Askewniverse, but returning to his fan-favorite characters seemed like a wise financial move. He had considered doing a Clerks sequel for a while, but what triggered it for him was the “Snowball Effect” documentary about the making of Clerks, shot for the 10th anniversary deluxe DVD set, which came out around the same time as Jersey Girl. Shooting interview footage for the piece further emphasized to Smith just how much his premiere film meant to him, and enticed him to return to that world and continue Dante and Randal’s adventures. So from that, we got Clerks II, a sequel fans had been waiting for over a decade since the original. As for me, I don’t remember exactly when I first watched Clerks, but it couldn’t have been more than a year before the follow-up came out, and even in that short amount of time being a Smith fan, I was psyched. I remember liking both movies pretty equally, maybe even giving a slighter edge to Clerks II, but that might have just been from the novelty of it being a brand new movie. While mostly enjoyable in its own right, Clerks II unavoidably sits in the shadow of the original, ultimately feeling safer and more formulaic than its transgressive predecessor. Continue reading “ReView Askew: Clerks II (2006)”

ReView Askew: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)

No matter what you might think of Kevin Smith, whether you love his movies or despise them, there’s one thing about him that you have to admire at least in some small way: his relationship with his fan base. In the late 90s, as Clerks and Mallrats were finding their audience on videotape, Smith’s View Askew website and message board became a virtual hangout for the OG fans. They could interact with Smith directly, who used the platform to answer questions about his movies, and drop hints and advance news of what he was working on. None of Smith’s movies were ever huge financial hits, at least by Hollywood standards, but his loyal viewers have been incredibly devoted from the start, and by the turn of the millennium, Smith was well aware of this. He’s always been extremely grateful for his fans, and even this early into his career, he realized who his core audience was and how he should cater to them. This is a creative ethos that would kick into high gear with the creation of his podcast network, and the films that followed, but in 2001, we got a little taste of Smith’s gratitude with a special cinematic gift he created just for the hardcore View Askew-heads.

After the mini-shitstorm that Dogma generated, Kevin Smith wasn’t in the best mood to handle any big topics for his next movie, so instead he went the complete opposite direction: a big, dumb live-action cartoon, promoting his dimwitted dynamic duo from side characters to the main event. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a $22 million in-joke, a movie filled to the brim with callbacks and references to Smith’s previous four films, a cinematic love letter to his fanbase to thank them for all the support they’ve given him in his career. It’s not so deep that I don’t think someone who hasn’t seen the other movies wouldn’t be able to follow this one, but I definitely consider it a bar for entry; I don’t see how someone completely unfamiliar the other View Askew movies could really get into this one. Even at the height of my Smith fandom in high school, I didn’t love this movie, but I still owned the DVD, and enjoyed it on the whole for the most part. There’s some degree of charm to something this self-indulgent, towards a piece of art that aims this incredibly low. But as a comedy, I honestly can’t say it’s very good, and I found myself growing increasingly disinterested in it as it crawled along. Continue reading “ReView Askew: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)”

ReView Askew: Dogma (1999)

Kevin Smith’s original trilogy of films, while covering a range of different subject matter, all had a similar scope to them, centering around stories of twenty-somethings and their interpersonal problems, with some dick jokes sprinkled liberally throughout. The stakes were relatively low. That said, it certainly was a departure from the established norm for Smith’s newest film to involve the fate of the entirety of existence, all while directly examining Catholicism and the concept of faith. Originally titled God, Smith actually started writing the initial script for this film soon after Clerks, but knew that to tell a story this grand of scale, he’d need some more movies under his belt to both actually be able to finance such a movie, and have the work experience to pull it off. After resurrecting his career with Chasing Amy, it seemed like then was as good a time as any for Smith to take a shot at his religious opus.

Dogma is easily Smith’s biggest movie in a number of ways: the stacked cast of big celebrities, the ambition of the storytelling, and the sometimes dramatic tone and serious subject matter. It also feels like the most difficult film so far to break down for a review, just because there’s so many different things going on in it. Unlike Mallrats and Amy, I was a pretty big fan of this one when I was younger, coming close to rivaling Clerks as my favorite. I wouldn’t call it the meatiest satire, and there’s some groaner jokes throughout, but it raises a lot of interesting ideas and questions about organized religion and the idea of faith; nothing too complex, but general enough to be a little thought-provoking, especially to my then-teenage self. It never feels like it gets too far up its own ass with its sermonizing… although it does get a little close at times. Continue reading “ReView Askew: Dogma (1999)”