Saturday, July 22, 2006

Review - Clerks II

Clerks II

Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Trevor Fehrman, Jennifer Schwalbach, Jason Mewes
Cameos: Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Weisman
Distributed by MGM Studios and The Weinstein Company
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Running Time: 1 Hour and 40 Minutes

3 Stars (out of 4)

Throughout his film career, Kevin Smith has given us gems such as Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy. His films have never been direct sequels as so much they were the continuing saga of Jay and Silent Bob. Clerks II is a direct sequel to his first film and Smith has proven that once again, it is okay to go home and dip into the well once more.

Clerks II follows the further exploits of Dante Hicks (O'Halloran) and Randal Graves (Anderson) twelve years later. The Quick Stop has burned down which forces our protagonists into working at a Mooby's fast food chain (of Dogma fame). Dante is engaged to Emma (Schwalbach who is married to Smith in real life) and planning on moving to Florida with her. Emma is controlling and overly protective of Dante, even going so far as to wear a shirt emblazeoned with a "Mrs. Hicks" prominently on the front. Dante is less spirited in the relationship, seeming to take the easy road while still holding a torch for the manager of Mooby's, Becky (Dawson). Randal is his sarcastic self, picking on cripples and angering Lord of the Rings fans. Jay and Silent Bob are still selling, but have picked Mooby's as their new turf. Elias (Fehrman) is the casheir who is hard core Christian with an affinity for the Transformers.

There are a couple relationships that are center to this film. The first is the relationship between Dante and Becky. After having sex once late one night after work, they have fallen for each other but haven't talked about it since. Dante is leaving because if he goes, he already will have a house and job waiting for him in Florida. Becky doesn't believe in romantic love so she keeps her yearning for Dante on the down low. The other relationship is that of Dante and Randal. They have been best friends since grade school and while he doesn't admit it, Randal is broken up about Dante leaving. This film has a lot to say about friendships and how a best friend can be as important to someone as the person they are in love with.

The situational comedy is excellent while Smith's ear for witty and engrossing dialogue is ever present. But while it has all this going for it, there are a few missteps in the film. The presence of Rosario Dawson overshadows the other actors - she is so good in comparison to everyone else, it is hard to look past some of the wooden performances. The "donkey show" scene goes on a little longer than it should. Some of the editing is a little nauseating at parts, but nothing to taint the whole film.

Kevin Smith has proven to be an important filmmaker. He made his first film for only $27,000 and proved that an independent film and director can make it in this industry. Smith's films are touching, witty and personal. The dialogue is sharp and the comedy is sometimes low brow (as he likes to call "dick and fart jokes") yet always seems to be a statement on society. Clerks II is another chapter in his "View Askew" universe that will be adored by his fans and probably some who aren't.

Clerks II is a more than worthy a follow-up to its predecessor. The characters feel as if they have not missed a step - they are like family that you are catching up with after not seeing them for awhile. It is more a meditation on getting older and taking charge of your life - of course with a donkey show and a cameo with Ben Affleck adorning a handlebar mustache thrown in. With a few miscalculations aside, this is one of the better comedies of the year so far.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Review - World Trade Center

World Trade Center

Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Stephen Dorff, Frank Whaley
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Running Time: 2 Hours and 10 Minutes

4 stars (out of 4)

While the event that will have forever changed this country on September 11th is almost five years in the past, it has stayed in the nation's collective conciousness every day. It is referred to in movies, television shows and talked about on news reports. Earlier this year, United 93 was the first film to come out about that fateful day and people were wondering if it was too soon. Now World Trade Center enters theatres at the beginning of August and that question has been answered - is it too soon? No.

World Trade Center is an emotional, gut-wrenching film based on the true story of two Port Authority Police Officers that survived the two towers collapsing and were pulled out 22 hours later. While never showing the planes hit the towers and having all the information being second-hand through cell phones and conversation (which was a brilliant move), Oliver Stone has created a sense of disconnectedness and confusion that permeated that day. Most of the first response teams on the ground didn't even know that the second tower had also been hit by a plane.

The story follows John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) as they make their way to the Trade Center. While walking on the concourse, the first tower begins to collapse, giving McLoughlin precious few seconds to make a decision. He directs his team to the elevator shaft, essentially saving their lives. Out of the five on his team, three survive - including Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez). Later on, Pezzulo is killed by the second tower falling. From here, the focus of the film is shifted in various directions - including the wives of McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a discharged marine who hears a higher power telling him to help (Michael Shannon) and the various people trying to contribute.

World Trade Center, instead of focusing on this disastrous day as a whole, takes a different route and tells a more personal and intimate tale. By sharing their story, director Stone is able to impart the courage and selflessness of our country through their suffering.

There still are scenes that take your breath away. When the first tower falls and the rescue team is in the concourse, it is visceral filmmaking. You feel as if you are there, with the ceiling falling and the earth shaking. The scene in which Pezzulo is crushed and is gasping is last breath is heart breaking for many reasons - the most obvious one is that he was not trapped under fragments from the first tower and was possibly able to escape but stayed behind to try and help Jimeno.

The performances are all excellent. There are few standout performances because this is more of an ensemble piece where every part makes the overall acting that much better. In a toned down performance, Cage hits all the right marks and makes you forget that he is Nicolas Cage. Maggie Gyllenhaal is outstanding as Jimeno's pregnant wife - she makes us believe in this time of crisis, it is hard to really know what is best for you. Jay Hernandez, for the small part that he has, gives the performance of his career so far. Stephen Dorff as the police officer that helps the two buried men is excellent - it is refreshing to see him back in movies and Dorff delivers some of the most gut-check lines in the film.

It is refreshing to see Stone return to his Platoon form. This film involves no crazy camera techniques or a flare for his JFK conspiracy side but the film is above and beyond anything he has done since JFK. While World Trade Center will most likely be labeled a controversial film for its subject matter, it gives no reason to be tagged as such. In the screening that I attended, the last hour all I could hear was sniffling and stifled crying. This film hits the heart, and hits is hard. No one will be able to deny that this is one of the best films of the year.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I'm sure I will be the only one to read my own writing for awhile so this will be more of a hobby until something comes along. I plan to use this blog as a place to publish my reviews and thoughts on film since this is a more public forum and maybe I can get more exposure eventually through this rather than on myspace.

Starting very soon, I plan to post a personal top 100 films of all time - now granted I am not so egotistical to think that this is the be all, end all list that should be adhered to by cinemaphiles everywhere - this is a list that are my personal top films that have shaped, influenced and inspired me my whole life (from a wee tyke till last week - if there was such a movie last week). Everyone loves lists - I am not different. I always like to read the top ten and bottom ten of each year by critics - and in my humble opinion, I will also post one of these lists.

Everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt. A movie I love, someone else could hate and vice versa. That is the whole point of taste, guilty pleasures and the art form we call film. A gem to someone could be a turd to someone else. So I encourage people to see as many films as they can - to help support this medium and its auteurs.

My ratings will be on a four star scale with half stars given (no five star with half stars). I will try my best not to be hypocritical and keep the reviews informational/educational while also entertaining. I will not insert quipy one-liners just for the sake of it (ahem, Bill Muller of the Arizona Republic).

Keep in mind that these will be just one person's opinion. I do not pretend to know everything but, since a college counselor once told me I had enough film classes to qualify for a Masters in film, I do know a little.

So, with this in mind, let us go forth. Reviews will be interspersed with thoughts and lengthy admiration for each of my top 100 (have to get the list in order from 1 to 100 and then rewatch them to get a recent refreshing and recharging so this may take awhile). Enjoy reading because I know I'll enjoy writing.