"Just Because They Serve You, It Doesn't Mean They Have To Like You". This is the tagline on the poster of "Clerks", Kevin Smith's famed indie success story that not only launched his career, but offered the world his brand of dialogue - a mixture of clever, very funny one-liners mixed with smartly, sarcastically crude humor. Anyone who's ever worked at someplace similar (and anyone who has worked in a video store will tell you that the film is quite accurate to that experience) will likely find something to appreciate in Smith (who worked at the store in the film)'s film.
"Clerks" focuses on Dante (Brian O'Halloran), a guy in his early 20's who finds himself in a low-key, low-energy job in a Quick Stop store in New Jersey. Despite having a girlfriend (Marilyn Ghigliotti), his ex (Lisa Spoonauer) finds her way back into his life. Meanwhile, not helping any is Randal (Kevin Anderson), who has resigned himself to his position in the video store next door and has since flipped over into the side of resenting and messing with the rare customers who stop in. Positioned outside are Jay and Silent Bob, two drug dealers who talk a lot (and a little) about what business they think they actually have.
Despite little in the way of story, "Clerks" manages to still entertain thanks to some creative moments (the clerks close the store to play a game of hockey on the rooftop) and terrific dialogue. The performances are also terrific; those who've worked in retail for any prolonged period of time will recognize Dante and Randal as the two distinct personalities that the majority of retail employees eventually turn towards - those who remain frustrated and and complain and those who've moved past the frustration and complaining and find their day's entertainment in good-natured antangonism ("You'd feel a lot better if you just ripped into the occasional customer.")
Made for a little over $27,000, "Clerks" enjoyed some post-production work on the image and soundtrack after it was bought by Miramax, but even so, the film manages to look fairly good for a no-budget indie. While Smith's famous "no movement" visual style (as "Chasing Amy" star Ben Affleck joked in that film's DVD, "The camera moves more in three seconds (of "Armageddon") than it does in (Smith's) entire Jersey trilogy.") still remains today, his more comedic films do a fine job placing the camera to capture the joke well.
The performances are excellent and go a long way towards making the movie work really well. Anderson and O'Halloran are nicely matched and have terrific chemistry together. Smith and Jason Mewes are also another nicely matched buddy team, despite the classic "wild thin guy/reserved heavy-set guy" comedic pairing. Although maybe it's not quite as funny as it was when I originally saw it, "Clerks" still rings very real and holds up quite well.
This 150th Anniversary Edition provides both the 93-minute original cut and the first cut of the film, which ran 104 minutes.
"Chasing Amy" signaled a new Kevin Smith, or at least many thought so. Combining his skills for fart jokes and foul humor with a very well-written tale about relationships, the film still is my favorite of Smith's efforts. Coming after the raunchy, low-budget "Clerks" and the unfortunate failure of "Mallrats", "Amy" ended up being sort of the perfect combination of the two.
Ben Affleck and Jason Lee star as Banky and Holden, a couple of comic artists that draw "Bluntman and Chronic", a duo that, while they argue, get along enough to work together. Alyssa Jones(Joey Lauren Adams), a young comic artist, falls in love with Holden(Affleck). Soon, Holden discovers that Alyssa is a lesbian, and that Banky becomes angered with Holden's new relationship taking away from their work.
There are some wonderful moments in "Chasing Amy", both from the performances by Adams, Affleck and Jason Lee as well as the dialogue from Smith, which is both very funny and very honest. Of course, Smith and Jason Mewes pop up as Jay and Silent Bob - although Jay is still one of the funniest characters to hit the screen in quite a while, the fact that the two pop up towards the end instead of most of the movie seems appropriate here.
There are some minor little moments where "Amy" trips up, I think the majority of it is easily Smith's best work, with some great writing and acting.
During the commentary track for "Chasing Amy", director Kevin Smith bemoans the fact that, no matter how hard he tries to improve his craft, fans always come up to him and tell him the scenes with Jay and Silent Bob are their favorites. Although things were a little shaky with the protesting over Smith's "Dogma" (which simply stopped the moment the film was released) and the unfortunate failure of the director's cartoon show based upon his first film, "Clerks", it was time to, well, "strike back". According to Smith, it was time to wrap up the "View Askewniverse" that he's built his features thus far upon.
So, we're introduced to how Jay and "hetero life-mate" Silent Bob first met. The familiar setting of the Quick Stop in New Jersey opens the picture, where we see two babies being wheeled up next to one another, while both parents leave them alone outside to watch over one another. And, as we'd expect, a torrent of profanity exits the young Jay's mouth - and then we're shuttled off to present day. The two are quickly booted from their place outside the front of the shop when the two clerks (Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran from "Clerks") become exhausted with trying to get the two drug dealers off their property and simply call the cops. Afterwards, the two find that the comic book based upon their lives ("Bluntman and Chronic") is being turned into a motion picture by Miramax (the studio that produced "Chasing Amy" & "Clerks", then backed out of their plans to release "Dogma").
The duo are then introduced to the internet, where they find that net-surfers are bashing "Jay and Silent Bob" based not upon themselves, but the characters that the movie presents. They don't understand that and set out with one thing in mind: to stop the picture from being made. This leads to one of the oldest of all comedic genres: the road trip. The two run into a group of international jewel thieves (Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, Shannon Elizabeth and Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach), one of which, Justice (Elizabeth), Jay falls for. The clueless duo get themselves in hot water though, and while they make their way to Hollywood, they eventually become aware they're being followed.
Although Smith is gifted at writing sex and fart jokes, the film is at its best when it seeks out obvious Hollywood targets (Jay sees Ben Affleck in a particular scene and shouts, in one of the film's funniest lines, "Phantoms was the bomb!", refering to Affleck's much-laughed at late 90's sci-fi outing. Affleck, who seems like a good sport on Smith's commentary tracks, also takes a few slaps for "Reindeer Games" and "Forces Of Nature". Affleck's "hetero life-mate" Matt Damon also gets a few jokes thrown his way regarding "Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Legend Of Bagger Vance". Another wonderfully funny (and completely true) discussion revolves around when Miramax changed from classy art pictures - "After 'She's All That', everything went to hell".)
There's little plot here, which I certainly expected. I wasn't exactly sure whether or not Jay and Silent Bob would hold up for an entire feature-length picture, but they manage to entertain, as well. Although I found much of the humor quite entertaining in "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back", there were a few things that didn't work particularly well for me. Will Ferrell overstays his welcome as a clueless federal park ranger, for example.
Yet, Smith has made some improvements as a filmmaker. His visual style (which Affleck hilariously rips on him due to his lack of in the commentary tracks for previous films) has improved noticably here over any of his previous films. Here, that's likely due to cinematographer Jaime Anderson ("Grosse Pointe Blank") who really helps the picture quite a bit. Smith actually goes for something resembling good sound here, for the first time. Sound designer Tom Myers ("The Mexican", Smith's "Dogma", "Pitch Black") definitely doesn't turn the film into "Armageddon", but the film's sound use was more entertaining than any of Smith's previous outings.
"Jay and Silent Bob" is consistently funny, but occasionally extremely hilarious. It's not completely consistent during its 95 minutes, but View Askew fans will likely, as I did, find a lot of hilarity and even some witty moments amidst the fart jokes. Those who frown upon such "potty-mouth" (a phrase joked about the commentary for Smith's "Mallrats") humor will likely be better off seeking something else at the multiplex.
VIDEO: "Clerks" is presented in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC) and, quite honestly, it still looks like "Clerks". This is a small, grainy black & white film that was produced on a next-to-nothing budget. The picture possibly looks a tiny bit sharper than prior editions, but the differences are minimal at best. "Chasing Amy" (1.85:1/1080p) and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2.35:1/1080p) are certainly larger films and see at least some improvement. "Amy" still shows some mild print wear and intentional grain, but sharpness and detail are mildly improved over prior releases. No edge enhancement was seen, but some slight pixelation was spotted. Colors looked bright and well-saturated, and a little punchier than the DVD.
SOUND: "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" are presented in DTS-HD 5.1, while "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is presented with a PCM 5.1 soundtrack. "Jay and Silent Bob" offers the most active mix of the three: surrounds are put to use throughout the movie, often for the music, but occasionally for some creative sound effects. The music sounds absolutely fantastic throughout the film, dynamic and crisp. Dialogue remained clear, while some decent bass was occasionally present. "Chasing Amy" and especially "Clerks" are dialogue-driven and offer fine audio quality - the DTS-HD presentations sound slightly cleaner than the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations on the prior DVDs.
EXTRAS: This Blu-Ray set offers the same "Jay and Silent Bob" disc as the previous Blu-Ray release, but the "Chasing Amy" and "Clerks" Blu-Ray discs in the set do offer some new bonus material.
New to the "Clerks" disc is "Oh, What a Wonderful Tea Party", a 90-minute documentary that was done regarding the making of "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back". Taken down from what was reportedly originally a much longer running time, the documentary is the debut of Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, who directed the doc with Malcolm Ingram. The documentary was intended to be included with prior releases, but never made it on until now.
The documentary is a very enjoyable effort, although surprisingly (given how the extras on Smith's previous films have been) it's a rather low-key affair at times. The camera follows along as Smith and the cast and crew trek across sets and locations, facing the difficulties of making a far larger film then they'd ever made previously. While there's definitely some very funny moments - Biggs talks about the realities of being known as that guy from the "American Pie" films, while Affleck shares a few gems about working with Smith - this is generally a more traditional "making of" that gives a very nice overview of the production process.
The next supplement is one that many are already familiar with (it was on the laserdisc and previous DVD): a commentary from director Kevin Smith, actor Jason Mewes, actor Brian O'Halloran, actor Walt Flanagan, actor Vincent Pereira and Film Threat Magazine's Malcolm Ingram are heard. Although not quite as funny or irreverant as some of the later commentaries with Smith, the track is quite amusing at times and one gets a very good insight into the filmmaking techniques used to pull off such a low-budget feature. There's also the fact that Mewes becomes completely wasted and passes out.
Next up is the music video for "Can't Even Tell", by Soul Asylum. Shot on a a fairly minor budget for music videos, Smith manages to make a hilarious take-off on the movie itself, featuring the band and members of the cast mixing it up in and around the Quik Stop, with the main piece being a hockey game on the roof. A "Clerks" release wouldn't be the same without a wonderfully '90's Soul Asylum video.
We get a "lost" scene from the film, which was done in animated form, similar to the "Clerks" animated series. It's essentially the scene inside the funeral home, where Dante and Randal cause a pretty serious disturbance. It's pretty funny - viewers can watch it either inserted into the film (although it is full frame) or on its own.
"Flying Car" is a short film that Smith shot for the tonight show, which reunites Anderson and O'Halloran in a car on the freeway, discussing what they would do to be one of the first to get their hands on a flying car. It's sort of funny, but it never really, well, takes off. Next are a brief explanation of the image restoration by DP Dave Klein, as well as a lengthier explanation of restoring the audio by producer Scott Mosier. Lastly, there's a very, very hilarious introduction to the theatrical cut/restoration by Smith and Mosier.
Yet, there's more: we get audition tapes for Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, and Ernest O'Donnell. We also get the film's theatrical trailer (taken from the chapter of the laserdisc, with Smith's audio intro), the series of Jay/Silent Bob MTV spots and promos for other Smith films.
Also included is the original cut of the film (with the darker ending), along with a new audio/video commentary by director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, actor Jason Mewes, actor Brian O'Halloran and actor Jeff Anderson. Once again, there's quite a few good laughs throughout this commentary as the group jokes about the film, the popularity it achieved and each other - as for the latter, some of the first several minutes of the commentary are focused on how Mosier saw Smith's mother nude when he was staying over one night. The group also eats take-out food early on while they talk. There's some interesting tidbits here and a lot of insights as the group looks back on the experiences of shooting the film and how things have changed for each since. One can listen to the audio commentary or watch the group in the studio talking.
Next we get "The Snowball Effect", a 90-minute documentary that focuses on the origins of "Clerks", as well as how the group of friends that are centered around Smith got together. We learn how Smith began to become attracted to independent films by friend Vincent Perira, resulting in Smith's viewing of Richard Linklater's "Slacker", which opened up the idea for Smith of doing a film of his own. Vancouver Film School followed and although Smith never finished his stay there, he'd met future long-time producer Mosier and took the money he'd spent to put towards the budget. Casting (we learn that early ideas for casting varied quite a bit from the final film) and pre-planning discussions follow. Through interviews with the cast and crew, we also learn more about trying to plan out the film's production on a very low budget. Despite the inexperience, we hear about how the crew worked out some issues that happened and overcame problems. It's an extremely well-done piece that offers a great look at the overall making of the picture.
A 42-minute Q & A session filmed for this edition is offered. Aside from Smith, we also hear from Anderson, Mosier, O'Halloran, Mewes and Marilyn Ghigliotti. The questions are kind of goofy at times, but the session is very entertaining and occasionally, pretty informative.
We also get another 41 minutes of outtakes from "The Snowball Effect". While some of these aren't too fascinating, they all do offer some at least moderately important things about the making of the film (more interviews with the cast, critic Janet Maslin's thoughts about "Clerks" and her thoughts on Kevin and the introduction to the final Sundance Film Festival screening/Sundance acceptance speech), among other things.)
Finally, the last disc also includes Smith and Mosier's film school piece, "Mae Day", a new intro from Smith, the trailer and more.
"Chasing Amy" offers plenty of supplemental features, including "Was It Something I Said?", a new and nearly 20-minute documentary feature that interviews Smith and Joey Lauren Adams regarding the film and their actual relationship. The two have a terrific time recalling stories about working together on "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy", as well as some amusing tales from while they were dating. Watching the two come together again to joke about the movie and share their thoughts is a lot of fun.
"Tracing Amy" is a new "making of" documentary for the film, running a little over 80 minutes. This is a fantastic new feature that features interviews with cast and crew, who all recall their time together on-set and their thoughts about Smith's attempt to try and rebound from the dismal reception that greeted "Mallrats". Smith and the others (and all the leads are interviewed) do go into great detail about casting, developing the film (and the difficulty that came from the budget, which Smith mistakenly thought would be enough, given how much "Clerks" cost), stories from the set and more. This is a terrific, terrific piece that revisits the film and discusses the entire process in an honest, funny fashion.
A nearly 30-minute Q & A with the cast and crew is included. The bunch is deeply, deeply funny - as hysterical as Smith's lengthy Q & A's (a few of which are available separately on DVD) are, Affleck is just as fast and funny, throwing in some one-liners that get big laughs. We do hear more about the production and get some good insights about the making of the film, but this is primarily a very funny watch.
We also get a new commentary from director Kevin Smith and producer Scott Mosier, deleted scenes, outtakes and the trailer. Unfortunately, the commentary from the DVD is not included. The commentary - apparently taken from an online podcast - is a great deal of fun (they crack each other up on many occasions throughout the track, once to the point where Smith is nearly crying), as the two manage to cover a lot of ground without going too much over the material covered elsewhere.
Finally, "Jay and Silent Bob" offers an audio commentary from Smith, Mosier and Mewes.
Final Thoughts: This beloved trio of films from Smith are pulled together for a very nice DVD set. While "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is the same as the previously released Blu-Ray, the other new titles do offer a good deal of newly produced bonus material. Recommended.