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My favourite film is "Back to the Future" my favourite TV show is "Stargate SG-1", I prefer vanilla over chocolate and my favourite colour is yellow. I've no difficulty seeing it which is a plus.
Politically, I'm a dyed in the wool democratic socialist of the Tony Benn school of thought. Some people consider socialism to be a radical philosophy but it's only radical if you consider the ideals of democracy, social justice and equality to be dangerous to the interests of the Establishment and the forces of the status quo.
The best music died with John Lennon and Freddie Mercury. When Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney shuffle off this mortal coil, the church bells will all be broken.
I also have a burning desire to seize power in a bloodless coup. All I need is a cadre of fanatics, a megaphone and a tank with "Ride of the Valkyries" playing in the background.
John Sturges is the only person to direct two of them: "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Great Escape".
Richard Attenborough is the only actor to appear in more than two of them: "The Great Escape", "Hamlet", "A Matter of Life and Death" and "A Bridge Too Far" (which he also directed).
That said, Richard Attenborough is my favourite director overall so it is a happy coincidence that he came first alphabetically speaking.
The list is probably not exhaustive but it includes all of them that I could find.
Clerks II (2006)
A hugely enjoyable sequel to a comic masterpiece
The sixth and most recent but thankfully not the last film in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, this is an hilarious and often surprisingly touching film. At a fairly lean $5 million, it still has more than 200 times the budget of "Clerks", easily one of the biggest budget increases for a sequel in film history. Irrespective of its bigger budget look, however, it manages to recapture much, if not quite all, of the magic that made the original film such a cult hit. After a slight misstep in the form of "Jersey Girl", Smith's comedic writing is once again very sharp and the same is true of his direction. I was particularly impressed by the 360 degree pan shot during an important conversation between the film's two lovable protagonists Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, played as before to perfection by Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson respectively.
The film begins with Dante opening the Quick Stop to discover that it is on fire. Not a good start to any morning. The culprit was the coffee pot which Randal forgot to unplug the previous night. Given that Randal's place of work - and I use that term loosely - RTS Video was also destroyed, the two 33-year-old boys are forced to seek employment at the fast food joint Mooby's, which was established in "Dogma" and previously seen in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back". The story then picks up a year later by which time Dante has found himself a (controlling) fiancée named Emma, played by Smith's wife Jennifer Schwalbach. He plans to move with her to Florida where he will run one of her father's car washes. The film charts Dante's last day at Mooby's, which proves to be as eventful as the one previously chronicled in "Clerks".
One thing I really loved about the film is that Dante and Randal have changed very little in the intervening decade: Dante is still the dogged nice guy who is trying to escape his minimum wage life and Randal is still determined to avoid any and all work while causing no end of trouble for his best friend of more than 20 years standing. If anything, Randal seems to have immatured with age as it takes particular pleasure in flaming the blog of a paraplegic. While the first film embraced the slacker lifestyle, this film goes one step further in that it is absolutely disdainful of the daily grind. This attitude is unsurprisingly best articulated by Randal. In a very touching moment, he admits that he would be lost without Dante and that he loves him (in a completely heterosexual way but Jay does have his doubts). In many of his films, Smith explores male friendship extremely well - T.S. and Brodie's friendship was one of the few things that I particularly liked about "Mallrats" - and this is best seen in the case of Dante and Randal's fraternal bond.
Of the new characters, the most interesting is certainly Mooby's manager Becky Scott. Rosario Dawson is absolutely enchanting in the role and she has great screen presence. Becky is a very kind, warm-hearted woman who is cynical about romantic love, believing that it and marriage are merely crammed down people's throats by the greeting card companies. She and Dante are extremely fond of each other, seemingly on a platonic level, but it becomes clear to the audience and, eventually, them that they are far more than just friends. Showing an uncharacteristic level of insight and wisdom, Randal is the first person to realise that they have chemistry. As you can imagine, things get a bit pear-shaped when Becky tells Dante that she is pregnant as a result of their one-night stand in Mooby's. Smith has written several very strong female characters in his films over the years and Becky is my favourite of them after Alyssa Jones from "Chasing Amy".
Other than Becky, my favourite new character is Dante and Randal's co-worker Elias Grover, played in a wonderful performance by Trevor Fehrman. A 19-year-old devout Christian, Elias is incredibly naive and acts far younger than his age because of his incredibly sheltered upbringing. Throughout the film, he is subjected to a torrent of abuse from Randal, who takes particularly pleasure in mocking his beloved "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "Transformers". One of the funniest parts of the film is when Elias explains to Randal that he and his girlfriend Myra have never had sex or even kissed because of the trolls living in her body that prevent her from doing either of those things. This raises a few interesting possibilities. Is the poor boy insane and Myra is simply imaginary? Is the poor boy being taken advantage of by a girl who can't stand even to kiss him? Is Myra insane and the poor boy does not realise it? All three scenarios seem plausible to me. In any event, he's in trouble!
Having been noticeably absent from the admittedly non-View Askewniverse film "Jersey Girl", Jay and Silent Bob make a triumphant return on this occasion. They may have far less screen time than in either "Dogma" or "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" but Jason Mewes and Smith are once again hilarious in their roles. As ever, Jay gets some of the funniest lines in the film. Even though they have given up drugs and found God (whom they already met in "Dogma" anyway!), they still sell them and have likewise changed very little. The film also features great cameo appearances by Jason Lee, Wanda Sykes, Kevin Weisman and Ben Affleck.
Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable sequel to a comic masterpiece. The "inter-species erotica" scenes with the donkey are not exactly Merchant Ivory territory but I certainly laughed at them, even though I found the concept more than a little disturbing! I trust that no donkeys were harmed during the making of this motion picture.
Jersey Girl (2004)
A well-meaning but pretty forgettable film
Kevin Smith's first non-View Askewniverse film, this is a rather disjointed affair. Neither Smith's writing nor his direction are up to their usual standard and this is his weakest effort since "Mallrats". It is unabashedly sentimental in comparison to Smith's previous films. The script is hardly original but that would not have been a problem if the plot devices were handled well, which they weren't generally speaking. The ending is nice and sweet though. This is Smith's first film in which Jay and Silent Bob do not appear and, more to the point, the first in which neither he nor Jason Mewes appear. I think that the film was a failed attempt to do something different, to be honest, but at least he tried to do something different. Due to the comparative lack of cursing, it is also the only one of Smith's films (so far) that my mother would watch but I won't be recommending it to her, I'm afraid.
Ben Affleck is good as Ollie Trinké but he was better in both "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma" in which he had considerably more interesting roles. Raquel Castro makes a great impression as his daughter Gertie, who is as precocious and adorable as all kids from modern romantic comedies are legally required to be. Jennifer Lopez, the other half of one of the most famous celebrity couples of the 2000s, has about six minutes screen time as her role was cut down severely following the incredibly negative reception of the previous Bennifer film "Gigli". This is one of the major reasons that the films feels so disjointed. George Carlin and Liv Tyler don't get interesting enough material. The best scene is certainly Will Smith's cameo towards the end of the film. Jason Lee and Matt Damon's cameos are nice too.
Overall, this is a well-meaning but pretty forgettable film. As with "Mallrats", Smith poked fun at this film's less than stellar reception when he guest starred in "Degrassi: The Next Generation". In dialogue that he wrote himself, he said, "When I was doing 'Jersey Girl', I cut J-Lo out of half the movie. Affleck I wanted to cut him out entirely but then that just would have left that little kid, y'know."
An absolutely hilarious film
The fifth film in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, this is an absolutely hilarious film which very effectively parodies Hollywood. It tells the story of Jay and Silent Bob's rather eventful trip to Tinseltown to stop the production of the film adaptation of the comic "Bluntman and Chronic" based on their lives. As it was originally going to be the final View Askewniverse film, Smith decided to make his two signature characters the focus of the storyline for the first time. It features numerous references to the earlier films, though only a handful to "Dogma", and includes at least one character (other than the eponymous drug dealers / prophets) from each of them. It does not make any allowances for those who have not seen the first four films and as such it is doubtful that people not familiar with them would be able to fully appreciate it. Smith's writing and direction are both very strong. Rather than dealing with serious topics as was the case with "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma", the film is simply an excuse to have some fun. For my money, it is Smith's funniest film since "Clerks".
As it is to be expected, Jason Mewes is hysterical as Jay, who remains as foulmouthed and idiotic as ever. One of the funniest parts of the film is when he imagines a devil on each shoulder - and later a battered and bruised angel - when he considers whether he or not he should drop his trousers in front of Justice, whom he has only known for a few hours. He eventually decides against it, which is perhaps for the best. What makes the scene works as well as it does is that all the time that he is receiving advice from these imaginary spirits, Justice is getting increasingly freaked out, if not downright frightened, by the fact that he keeps looking at his shoulders and reacting to nothing. Justice, a sexy international jewel thief - is there any other kind? - with whom he quickly falls in love, is played very well by Shannon Elizabeth and she has great chemistry with Mewes. When it comes to his relationship with Justice, Jay displays a softer side, after a fashion, and even stops calling her a "bitch" at her request. He instead calls her "boom boom kitty f***." He becomes so gallant and debonair as the film progresses that he could easily be mistaken for David Niven. Although he has far more screen time than in the previous films, Silent Bob has only two lines - perhaps he fell out with the writer-director - but his facial expressions communicate a great deal throughout. Smith's use of the film to mock his online critics may not have been the most mature thing in the world to do but, by God, it was funny.
The film is basically an exercise in self-indulgence on the one hand and breaking the fourth wall on the other. And I love for that! For instance, Ben Affleck reprises his role as Holden McNeil from "Chasing Amy" in the early part of the film and praises the talents of the talented young actor Ben Affleck, though he was not too fond of "Good Will Hunting". Later in the film, he plays himself and is depicted filming a scene of the considerably more violent "Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season" with Matt Damon, who is still annoyed that Affleck convinced him to do "Dogma". Gus Van Sant has a cameo as the uninterested director, who spends his entire time leafing through a script, seemingly that of another film. Perhaps he was contemplating doing a shot-for-shot remake of "Clerks". I would love to see the fictional "Scream 4" in which Jay and Silent Bob's orangutan friend Suzanne is revealed to be Ghostface!
Jason Lee reprises his role as both Brodie Bruce and Banky Edwards from "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy" respectively. Even though he has only one scene as Brodie, he manages to be funnier than he was at any point in "Mallrats" as he was given much better material. If there is one thing that I have learned from the View Askewniverse films, it is that New Jersey has a surprisingly small gene pool for a place with almost nine million people. Will Ferrell is good as Marshal Willenholly but he could have been considerably better. Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter and Smith's wife Jennifer Schwalbach are great fun as Sissy, Chrissy and Missy, Justice's partners in crime who are basically evil versions of Charlie's Angels. In skintight black leather. Chris Rock is incredibly funny as the "Bluntman and Chronic" director Chaka Luther King. Any resemblance to Spike Lee is purely coincidental. The film is full to the brim with great cameos but my favourites other than those I have already mentioned are Carrie Fisher as a nun, George Carlin as a hitchhiker, Mark Hamill as himself playing Bluntman and Chronic's arch-nemesis Cocknocker, Judd Nelson as a sheriff, Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa Jones, Dwight Ewell as Hooper X (who is seemingly Banky's boyfriend these days), Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek as themselves and, of course, Brian O'Halloran as Dante and Jeff Anderson as Randal.
Overall, this is a laugh riot from start to finish. I am glad that this was not the end of the View Askewniverse after all but I would have been more than satisfied if it had been.
An hilarious and thought-provoking film about the nature of faith
The fourth film in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, this is an hilarious and thought-provoking film which cleverly explores the nature of faith. Due to the fact that it treats Catholicism in a very flippant fashion, it was somewhat controversial at the time of its release and was even denounced by the Catholic League as "blasphemy." However, it is best to take the film about as seriously as it takes its subject matter. It features numerous criticisms, both explicit and implicit, of Catholicism and organised religion in general and I have to say that I agreed with every one of them. After "Clerks", this is my favourite Smith film so far. His writing is excellent and his direction is getting better and better with every film. He is much better able to handle the stunts and special effects than he was in "Mallrats" but wisely keeps the focus on the characters.
I don't generally comment on such things in my reviews but, as far my own religious heritage goes, I was raised Catholic but I am now an agnostic. At one point, Bethany Sloane describes feeling inspired as a child when she attended Mass. I have to admit that I never felt that way. I did not question Catholic teaching when I was younger because I was too young to question it but, in retrospect, there was always a sense of going through the motions. The countless revelations of corruption and abuse in the Catholic Church, particularly in my native Ireland, did not exactly endear it to me either. Other than my sister's wedding, I can't remember the last time that I even entered a church.
The plot concerns the fallen angels Loki and Bartleby, played very well by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who were expelled from Heaven after getting drunk and objecting to the tenth plague of Egypt. They discover a loophole in Catholic canon law in the form of a plenary indulgence in a soon to be rededicated New Jersey church which would allow them to reenter Heaven but doing so would prove that God is not infallible and consequently lead to the destruction of all Creation, which would be a shame. In order to prevent this from happening, Heaven calls upon the services of the last scion Bethany Sloane and the two prophets, namely - who else? - Jay and Silent Bob.
Linda Fiorentinio is wonderful as Bethany. By far the most realistic character in the film, she is a bitter, cynical Catholic abortion clinic worker who is suffering a crisis of faith in large part because her husband left her because she cannot have children. She attends Mass every Sunday but she gets nothing out of it and is not even sure why she goes. However, she is thrown into the deep end when she is visited by the archangel Metratron, the Voice of God. Over the course of the film, she struggles to come to terms with the fact that she was uncertain about God's very existence one day and is on a mission from Him (or Her!) the next. The antics of the borderline sex pest Jay are not of much comfort to her.
The fallen angels are very interesting characters. Loki is a fun lovin' former angel of death who enjoys messing with people by convincing them that God does not exist. He also gets a giddy thrill out of getting up to his old tricks and killing sinners. At first, Bartleby is the more staid and sensible of the two as he wants to keep a low profile and not risk God finding out about their plans to return upstairs. However, he experiences an epiphany when he realises that God has infinite patience for his favoured creations, namely humans, but He expelled them from Heaven after one mistake. Although Bartleby has learned that their plan will negate all existence, he still intends to go through with it, which astonishes and disgusts Loki. Affleck is no Laurence Olivier but is very good at playing Bartleby's anger and quest for vengeance.
Jay and Silent Bob have larger roles than in any of the previous three films and, as the former, Jason Mewes has most of the funniest lines in the film. It is a shame that Mewes has never had a big career outside of Smith's films as he is incredibly funny. Silent Bob is less verbose than in "Chasing Amy" but manages to save Bethany's life numerous times throughout the film. Alan Rickman, a far better comedic actor than he is a dramatic actor, is likewise extremely funny as the frequently drunk Metatron, who is bitter that most Christians do not know that he exists since there has never been a film about him. I have never been a big fan of Chris Rock either but he is very good here as Rufus, the thirteenth apostle who was left out of the Bible because he is black. The same is true of Salma Hayek as the muse Serendipity, who works at a strip club and was responsible for inspiring 19 of the top 20 highest grossing films of all time. Sadly for Metatron, none of them were about him.
Jason Lee is both very funny and suitably villainous as the horned demon Azrael. George Carlin does not have much screen time but he is absolutely hilarious as the unorthodox Cardinal Glick, who seeks to revamp the Catholic Church's image through his Catholicism Wow! campaign. Oh, and Alanis Morissette plays God. Isn't it ironic, don't ya think? Actually, like the contents of her dreadful song, it isn't. The film also features great small appearances from Bud Cort, Janeane Garofalo, Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson (making his first appearance since "Clerks") and Dwight Ewell.
Overall, this is an excellent film which does not take its subject matter too seriously but manages to say some very interesting things about religion, good and bad, along the way.
Chasing Amy (1997)
An excellent film which is at turns hilarious and touching
The third film in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, this is an excellent film which it is at turns hilarious and touching. It differs from Smith's stellar debut "Clerks" (and his mediocre second film "Mallrats") in that there is a dramatic story with an undercurrent of comedy as opposed to a comedic story with an undercurrent of drama. There are some extremely frank and well-written scenes in which the characters discuss sex and sexuality in a very honest fashion as well as some where the issues are played purely for laughs. Smith is an excellent writer with a great ear for dialogue and the characters are more realistic than those in most other romantic comedies of the time and since. His skills as a director are not on the same level as his skills as a writer but he is nevertheless good. In either case, he is at his best when dealing with characters and relationships as opposed to stunts and special effects.
The film stars Ben Affleck in one of his best performances as Holden McNeil, the co-creator of the popular comic book "Bluntman and Chronic" based on the adventures of Smith's signature characters Jay and Silent Bob. At a convention, he meets another comic book artist named Alyssa Jones, who was previously mentioned in both "Clerks" and "Mallrats", and is immediately attracted to her. As such, he is extremely disappointed when he discovers that she is a lesbian. As they spend more and more time together, Holden realises that he views her as far more than a friend and confesses to her in quite a moving (and very well acted) speech that he is madly in love with her. Alyssa is furious at him initially as she thinks that he is trying to turn her straight but they nevertheless pursue a relationship, beginning that very night when they have sex. While she goes over the top on a few occasions, particularly when she has to scream, Smith's then girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams gives an extremely good performance as Alyssa and she and Affleck have great chemistry.
The script nicely explores the issue of sexuality and the attitudes towards it. Holden is interesting in that he is not always a terribly sympathetic or likable character. He had quite a conservative upbringing and abides by the standard definitions of sex and sexuality. He is very judgmental of Alyssa's sexual history, which is far more adventurous than his own. There is a major double standard on display as he has no problem with her having been with other women but his feelings for her change when he learns that she had a threesome with two guys in high school, one of them being "Clerks" character Rick Derris. Prior to this, she had led him to believe that he was the only man that she had ever been with. Holden represents the more traditional attitudes to such matters whereas Alyssa is much more of a sexual free spirit, for lack of a better term. Speaking of Alyssa's sexuality, she consistently refers to herself as a lesbian, as do all the other characters, but the evidence would seem to suggest that she is in fact bisexual, a word which is never used in the film incidentally. I'm not talking so much about her youthful sexual experimentation with men and women since in this instance but the fact that she comes to love Holden, perhaps even more than he loves her, even though all of her other adult relationships have been with women. In contrast to Holden, she is never less than sympathetic. She is a strong character who is not ashamed of her past but has nevertheless put it behind her. There is some nice, subtle social commentary on certain people's reluctance to accept the existence of bisexuality as well as slut shaming.
The other major character in the film is Holden's best friend of 20 years standing Banky Edwards, who is played very well by Jason Lee who has some of the funniest lines in the early and more comedy-orientated part of the film. Banky is strongly implied to be either a closeted gay man or bisexual himself in that he is clearly in love with Holden but tries to deny it to everyone, even himself. He tends to overcompensate for these feelings by bringing 30 porno magazines on a two day trip and with his "passive aggressive gaybashing." He comes to resent Alyssa more and more throughout the film as he thinks that she is taking Holden away from him. As Silent Bob, Smith is extremely verbose on this occasion and delivers a wonderfully heartfelt speech about the end of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Amy, the unseen title character.
Dwight Ewell is a laugh riot as Hooper X, a very camp gay man who uses the "whole black rage angle" to sell his anti-white comic book. It is absolutely hilarious when, in character, he loudly argues that the original "Star Wars" trilogy is incredibly racist. His on stage persona is an extremely funny parody of Malcolm X, as the name would suggest, as well as the fact that many rappers like to project a more dangerous image to sell their music. However, Hooper does openly resent being a member of a minority inside a minority so his persona may not be entirely fictional. In his one scene, Jason Mewes provides some of the biggest laughs as Jay. The film also features nice cameos from Scott Mosier, Ethan Suplee (who is much funnier than in Mallrats where he had far more screen time), Brian O'Halloran, Matt Damon and Affleck's younger brother Casey. As ever, I loved the "Degrassi Junior High" reference!
Overall, there is a thought-provoking, moving and funny which was perhaps ahead of its time in its exploration of people's attitudes towards sexuality.
A major disappointment
Set only one day prior to the events of "Clerks", Kevin Smith's follow-up to his absolutely hilarious debut film is sadly a major disappointment. That film had a very low budget and a fantastic script whereas this film has a much larger budget ($6million) and an incredibly mediocre script. It seems like a watered down version of "Clerks" in that the dialogue is nowhere near as witty or well observed (though it tries to be) and T.S., Brodie, Rene and Gwen are basically the poor man's Dante, Randal, Veronica and Caitlin. I had heard that many people found it disappointing but I went in an open mind, only to find out that they were right. When Smith guest starred in "Degrassi: The Next Generation", he poked fun at the film's poor reception in dialogue that he wrote himself. Caitlin Ryan tells him that this is her favourite Kevin Smith film and he replies, "You're lying. 'Mallrats' is no one's favourite Kevin Smith film." I just hope that the sequel "MallBrats" is better than this.
On the bright side, Jason Lee is quite funny as Brodie and has most of the good lines but he could have been so much funnier with better material. The same goes for Michael Rooker as Svenning and Jason Mewes and Smith as Jay and Silent Bob, the only returning characters from "Clerks" in spite of numerous references to it. Jeremy London is likable as T.S. but the character doesn't have much of a personality and is a far less effective straight man to Brodie than Dante was to Randal. Ethan Suplee's "subplot" as Willam goes nowhere very slowly. Claire Forlani has been much better elsewhere while Joey Lauren Adams deserved more screen time. Shannen Doherty is simply forgettable as Rene but Ben Affleck is quite good as Shannon Hamilton. My favourite scene in the film is when Stan Lee gives the completely starstruck Brodie romantic advice but that is more of a sweet scene than a funny one.
A comic masterpiece
The first film in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, this is a comic masterpiece. The film was made on a budget of a mere $27,575, probably less than the catering costs on most Hollywood films, but you don't need a big budget if you have a great comic imagination and a gift for writing wonderful dialogue, both of which Smith has in spades. I have been aware of Smith and his films for years now but I decided to check them out when he and Jason Mewes guest starred as themselves on the Canadian teen drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation", to which I am addicted, and I thought that they were both very funny. Smith is a huge fan of the series' predecessor "Degrassi Junior High" and Caitlin Bree is named after one of its main characters Caitlin Ryan.
The film charts a particularly eventful day in the lives of two clerks named Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, played to perfection by Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson respectively. Dante is a dogged nice guy who is torn between his current girlfriend, Veronica Loughran, and his ex-girlfriend Caitlin Bree. Veronica wants him to pull his socks up and go to college so that he make something of himself but Dante takes her for granted and spends most of his time pinning over Caitlin, whom he learns has just gotten engaged to an Asian design major. His relationship with Veronica is stable but his relationship with Caitlin was marked - well, defined - by frequent infidelity on her part so it was not exactly a match made in Heaven in spite of the fact that he seems to devote most of his life to reminiscing about it. Veronica and Caitlin are played very well by Marilyn Ghigliotti and Lisa Spoonhauer, who was later briefly married to Anderson incidentally. As the film progresses, however, things go a bit pear-shaped for all concerned. Dante means well but he has a tendency to screw up, though much of this can be attributed to the less than helpful efforts of his best friend Randal.
Randal is the archetypal apathetic Generation X slacker and pop philosopher who works at a video store and makes no effort to hide his disdain for the customers. He spends most of his time at the convenience store Quick Stop where Dante works so he leaves the video store unattended for about 45 minutes out of every hour. Randal regularly insults the Quick Stop costumers as well, leaving Dante to try and salvage the situation. He devotes a great deal of his energy to pointless gossip, causing trouble for Dante and thinking about things such as the politically neutral independent contractors who were more than likely killed in the destruction of the second Death Star in "Return of the Jedi". Randal is without a doubt the best character in the film and gets all the best lines, which may have something to do with the fact that Smith originally intended the role for himself.
The first 20 minutes of the film are certainly very funny with the biased anti-cigarette gum enthusiast and Dante and Veronica's discussion of their respective sexual exploits but it reaches another level of hilarity when Randal makes his first appearance. O'Halloran and Anderson have great chemistry and they deliver their exquisite dialogue in a very natural fashion, particularly when they're together. Like Dante, Randal means well. He is very protective of Dante but he royally screws things up for him without meaning to at the end of the film. He's is basically the best friend from Hell but he and Dante nevertheless have a great brotherly relationship.
Over the course of the day, Dante and Randal have to deal with numerous odd and/or difficult customers and these interactions are likewise hilarious. Smith worked at a convenience store at the time that the film was made so I am guessing that some of them were based on people that he met in his day job. My favourite customer is certainly the old man, played by Al Berkowitz, who needs to use the "terlet" at the not very aptly named Quick Stop and comes back to haunt Dante (and Caitlin!) later in the film. Most of the cast members in the films were friends of Smith's or family members such as his mother Grace who played the "milkmaid" and his sister Virginia who played the, uh, animal artificial insemination specialist. Jason Mewes and Smith himself are very funny as Jay and Silent Bob, two of the most colourful characters in the film.
Several actors such as the film's producer Scott Mosier and Walt Flanagan play multiple characters. While this was probably done mostly to save money, it serves to emphasise the fact that Dante and Randal's jobs are extremely repetitive. It is not often that an entire film concerns the lives of people with ordinary, boring jobs and that makes the film stand out. The characters are of course exaggerated but I know people who remind me of Dante and Randal and I'm sure that that is true of many others. I can't imagine Randal's work ethic doing much for his employment prospects in a recession though.
Overall, this is an absolutely hilarious film which is a testament to what a filmmaker can achieve if he has a very small budget and a first-rate script. It is without a doubt the best ultra low budget film that I have seen, putting even "The Blair Witch Project" to shame. I shall be looking for ways to work "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" into conversation from now on. I would try with other lines from the film but sadly many of the best ones cannot be repeated in polite society! Impolite society is another matter entirely.
The Last Starfighter (1984)
Enormous fun from start to finish
The film has a great script by Jonathan R. Betuel and it is nicely directed by Nick Castle, otherwise best known for playing Michael Myers in "Halloween" (1978). Along with "Tron", it is remembered for its groundbreaking early use of CGI and the special effects, state of the art for the time, hold up surprisingly well. Although the film has a comparatively serious plot, there is a great undercurrent of humour throughout the film.
Lance Guest is a very engaging male lead as both Alex Rogan and his robot duplicate Beta Alex while Catherine Mary Stewart is likewise very good as his girlfriend Maggie Gordon. It's a shame that neither of them had any other big successes as they're both likable and talented actors. In his final film, Robert Preston is great as the interplanetary con man Centauri. However, in spite of his relatively limited screen time, the show is stolen by my fellow University College Dublin alumnus Dan O'Herlihy as Alex's alien navigator. His great voice and Irish accent were as recognisable as his face was unrecognisable and he gets many of the best lines in the second half of the film. His papers in the UCD Archives, where I seem to spend most of my working life these days, so I really must have a look at them one of these days to see if there is any Hollywood gossip!
I think that part of the reason that the film works as well as it does is that the actors generally play it straight in both the dramatic and the comedic scenes rather than going over the top in the latter. There are several hints in the film that a sequel was planned but it never materalised, unfortunately.
King & Country (1964)
A brilliantly made scathing indictment of the British military establishment during the First World War
Set entirely in the Passchendaele trenches over the course of less than a day in October 1917, this is a brilliantly made scathing indictment of the British military establishment during the First World War. It has a first rate script by Evan Jones and it benefits from extremely strong direction by Joseph Losey, an American who was blacklisted in the 1950s and spent the rest of his career in the UK. The film was made on a comparatively low budget of £100,000 and shot in a mere 18 days but there is certainly no indication of that on screen. That is the difference between good direction and bad direction. It packs a great deal into its 86 minute running time.
The film stars Tom Courtenay as a British Army private named Arthur James Hamp who is accused of desertion after he goes for a long walk during a break in the fighting at Passchendaele. Hamp was a volunteer who signed up in 1914, having been dared to do so by his wife and her mother. He is the last surviving original member of his platoon and, as such, has seen a great deal of death and carnage on the Western Front. It soon becomes clear that, contrary to the claims of the borderline negligent medical officer Captain O'Sullivan, he is suffering from severe shell shock. Courtenay gives a wonderful, understated performance as Hamp. For much of the film, he exhibits the characteristic thousand yard stare and often seems to be not entirely aware of his surroundings. This is well illustrated by the fact that he thought that he was walking home to London. He later mentions that he had to remind himself that they were talking about him and not someone else at his court martial. My great-grandfather was a medic on the Western Front for almost the entire war and saw many people with horrific injuries. He suffered from what would now be called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder for the rest of his life, which is unfortunately a very common story.
Although Hamp's behaviour sets the events of the plot in motion, the film's protagonist is Captain Charles Hargreaves, the officer who is given the unenviable responsibility of defending him at his court martial. He played in another brilliant performance by a perfectly cast Dirk Bogarde. Hargreaves initially comes across as a stereotypical British officer of the era. When he first meets Hamp, he is impatient and unsympathetic towards him. This is partly because he does not believe that he is very intelligent and partly because he thinks that he should have done his duty. During the court martial, there is initially a sense that he is merely doing his duty in defending him but he becomes genuinely sympathetic towards him as the film progresses. He is extremely upset when he learns that Hamp is to be shot and becomes contemptuous of the military establishment. Hargreaves is really the closest thing that Hamp has to a friend at the end of his life.
The rest of the film's entirely male cast is very strong, particularly Leo McKern as Captain O'Sullivan, Barry Foster as Hamp's sympathetic commanding officer Lt. Jack Webb, Peter Copley as the presiding colonel at the court martial, James Villiers as the prosecutor Captain Midgley, Barry Justice as the legal adviser Lt. Prescott and Jeremy Spenser as Private Sparrow. After the court martial, Midgley and Prescott are revealed to be personally sympathetic towards Hamp but they performed the duties with which they were entrusted to the best of their abilities. On the other hand, the colonel is far more antagonistic towards him and finds no reason to disagree with the decision to execute Hamp, which was made by his superiors in order not to reduce morale in the troops as a big push is due with several days.
There is also a subplot concerning the daily life of soldiers when they were not fighting. In fact, there is no fighting in the film whatsoever but the sound of artillery in the background can be heard for much of the film. The film does not pull any punches in depicting the mud-soaked, rat-infested trenches and the soldiers' efforts to make their lives bearable by making jokes and playing games. At one point, they hold a mock trial for a rat, which nicely parallels Hamp's only slightly more credible court martial. Losey made an excellent decision when it came to the use of numerous photographs, provided of the Imperial War Museum, of actual trenches, including the corpses of soldiers and a dead horse. The most effective use of a photograph is when Hamp uses the phrase "king and country" and one flashes up of King George V and his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II together before the war.
Overall, this is an excellent film which completely excoriates British military justice of the period. There's an old saying, "Military justice is to justice what military music is to be music," and we certainly get a good indication of that here.
A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Not a very good film
Based on Ernest Hemingway's semi-autobiographical 1929 novel of the same name, this seemed like the perfect film to watch after the Hemingway biopic "In Love and War" (1996) but it is not a very good one. I read the relevant novel seven or eight years ago so my memories of it are admittedly not terribly fresh but this is not a great adaptation. The film is slowly paced, disjointed and often boring in spite of its short running time. The ending is far too melodramatic for my liking. The script largely trades the novel's cynicism and fatalism for sentimentality and romanticism. Hemingway hated the film but, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have had a problem with these changes if they had been handled well. Sadly, they weren't as the script is not exactly strong.
That said, there is an underlying sense of fatalism when it comes to the treatment of the First World War and the manner in which it impacted on its participants. The scenes dealing with the war are considerably better executed than the romantic ones. The film is interesting in its depiction of premarital sex, particularly since it would have been toned down considerably if it had been made after the Hays Code came into effect in 1934. Hemingway would have probably hated it even more if, say, it had been made in 1937. The novel's language was toned down as well but that was hardly surprising given that Hemingway used several words that would not be commonly heard in films until decades after his death.
Gary Cooper became a better actor as he got older but he is not a great leading man in this instance. His performance as Lt. Frederic Henry is very variable. In contrast, Helen Hayes is excellent as his beloved Catherine Barkley, a war weary and somewhat emotionally damaged English nurse. I've never seen her in anything young before so that was interesting. However, she and Cooper have next to no chemistry so their romance is tepid at best, which is obviously never a good thing in a romantic film! The film also features strong performances from Adolphe Menjou as Henry's unreliable "war brother" Captain Rinaldi, Mary Phillips as Catherine's best friend and fellow nurse Helen Ferguson and Jack La Rue as an Italian priest who has difficulty comprehending the scale of death and destruction that the war has caused. Cooper later became close friends with Hemingway and chose him to star in the film adaptation of his 1940 novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls".
Overall, this is not a very good film when it comes to the romantic elements but much better when it comes to its more limited war elements.