KEVIN SMITH RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW: GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)

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Sean: It’s not your fault

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writers: Matt Damon & Ben Affleck

Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser

Synopsis: Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

Good Will Hunting is the breakout hit of 1997 for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. These two young actors proved their credibility not only as great actors but also as smart filmmakers. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the script for this film which is smart, witty, emotional and very mature for two young boys from Boston. This isn’t their feature film as Ben Affleck had been working with Kevin Smith (Producer on this film) on Mallrats and Chasing Amy and Matt Damon had some pre-acting work also. However this was the film that put them on the map and also garnered them Academy Awards for Writing (Best Screenplay). Although they both wrote the script the film is Matt Damon’s showpiece. He stars as the protagonist Will Hunting who is a poor orphan boy from Boston working menial jobs who is secretly a genius prodigy.

He is discovered by Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) after he secretly completes a complicated mathematical equation for his students. Will was working as a Janitor at the University and is caught by Lambeau after he notices him working on his whiteboard. Will is happy to just hang out with his best friends including Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser) as they hit bars and work construction jobs. They are all from the same part of town and are as close as brothers. Will doesn’t want to break his bonds with them although he has a secret gift.

After getting into a brawl he is sentenced to prison unless he takes therapy sessions advised by Professor Lambeau. Initially Will isn’t interested in working for the Professor but goes along as he doesn’t want to go to prison. He plays around with different therapists trying to buy time until he reaches 21 and can be free. However Professor Lambeau seeks out an old colleague who he knows can reach out to Will. His old colleague is Sean (played in an Oscar winning performance by the legendary Robin Williams) who connects to Will and knows how to cut around his bullshit. Will eventually gives in and they form a bond which is emotional and heart-warming. Matt Damon and Robin Williams have excellent chemistry and their scenes together escalate this film to a higher status. The film overall is quite slow and follows familiar tropes of a Kevin Smith film. Two best friends, girl trouble, college humour. However with a smart script, delicate direction from director Gus Van Sant and brilliant acting from Matt Damon and Robin Williams this film garnered critical and commercial fame which a Kevin Smith film could not approach (although I find Kevin Smith’s films more entertaining in general.

This is a sophisticated film which put Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into A list stars. It is a little slow but the conclusion pays everything off brilliantly.

A

Highlights:
– Excellent chemistry and performances between Matt Damon and Robin Williams
– Great original script by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
– Matt Damon and Ben Affleck portray two friends very realistically
– Minnie Driver is quite charming
– Robin Williams gives the film a maturity the film is missing in the first half
– Matt Damon and Robin Williams in the “It’s Not Your Fault” scene escalates this film to classic status

KEVIN SMITH RETROSPECTIVE FILM REVIEW: CHASING AMY (1997)

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Silent Bob: So there’s me and Amy, and we’re all inseparable, right? Just big time in love. And then four months down the road, the idiot gear kicks in, and I ask about the ex-boyfriend. Which, as we all know, is a really dumb move. But you know how it is: you don’t wanna know, but you just have to, right? Stupid guy bullshit. So, anyway, she starts telling me about him… how they fell in love, and how they went out for a couple of years, and how they lived together, her mother likes me better, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… and I’m okay. But then she drops the bomb on me, and the bomb is this: it seems that a couple of times, while they were going out, he brought some people to bed with them. Ménage à trois, I believe it’s called. Now this just blows my mind, right? I mean, I am not used to this sort of thing. I mean, I was raised Catholic, for God’s sake.
Jay: Saint Shithead.
[Silent Bob elbows him; Jay motions as if to start a fight]
Silent Bob: Do something.
[to Holden]
Silent Bob: So I’m totally weirded out by this, right? And then I just start blasting her. Like… I don’t know how to deal with what I’m feeling, so I figure the best way is by calling her a slut, right? And tell her she was used. I’m… I’m out for blood. I really wanna hurt this girl. I’m like, “What the fuck is your problem?”, right? And she’s just all calmly trying to tell me, like, it was that time and it was that place and she doesn’t think she should apologize because she doesn’t feel that she’s done anything wrong. I’m like, “Oh, really?” That’s when I look her straight in the eye, I tell her it’s over. I walk.
Jay: Fuckin’ A!
Silent Bob: No, idiot. It was a mistake. I didn’t hate her. I wasn’t disgusted with her. I was afraid. At that moment, I felt small, like… like I’d lacked experience, like I’d never be on her level, like I’d never be enough for her or something like that, you know what I’m saying? But, what I did not get, she didn’t care. She wasn’t looking for that guy anymore. She was… she was looking for me, for the Bob. But, uh, by the time I figure this all out, it was too late, man. She moved on, and all I had to show for it was some foolish pride, which then gave way to regret. She was the girl, I know that now. But I pushed her away. So, I’ve spent every day since then chasing Amy… so to speak.

Director: Kevin Smith

Writer: Kevin Smith

Synopsis: Holden and Banky are comic book artists. Everything’s going good for them until they meet Alyssa, also a comic book artist. Holden falls for her, but his hopes are crushed when he finds out she’s a lesbian.

Chasing Amy is Kevin Smith’s third film and possibly his best. After the hit independent Clerks and the extremely disappointing Mallrats, Smith went back to his indie roots and made a personal, touching and often witty romantic comedy. With shades of Annie Hall, Kevin Smith used his real life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams as the template to make a film that was more than low-brow humour found in his previous film. The film is impressive for its realism of male and female sexuality and dealing with relationships in the 90’s.

The film revolves around Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) two best friends who created the comic book Bluntman and Chronic (based on Jay and Silent Bob). Banky is the Inker and Holden is the writer. They are a good team and have a successful comic book career. That is until Holden meets Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), a charming, sexy and fun fellow comic book writer. Holden and Alyssa immediately hit it off although Banky becomes jealous of his best friends new potential love interest. Holden is head over heels immediately and is eager to meet her again when she invites him to a bar. Unfortunately for Holden he soon becomes aware that she is gay. Alyssa notices his disappointment but wants to be his friend and enjoys being with him. After hanging out with each other for a while Holden can’t keep his feelings back anymore and confesses his love for her. Alyssa gives in and they get together. However with her sexual history and Holden’s mainstream idea of love he can’t get over her past and things begin to fall apart.

This is a very touching and heartfelt film and a huge improvement in filmmaking from Smith. Ben Affleck is great in this film. His acting is superb and he really rises to his leading man status of today after his awful role in Mallrats. Joey Lauren Adams is adorable as Alyssa Jones, she’s every comic book lover’s fantasy. She’s sexy, charming, she’s a comic book writer with knowledge of comic book history too. Her voice is also so sexy. It’s too bad she didn’t have a better career after this film. Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams have amazing chemistry and their characters relationship is sweet, charming, realistic and ultimately heartbreaking.

Jason Lee plays a similar character from Mallrats. However he has better chemistry with Ben Affleck than Jeremy London (where is he now?). His scenes with Affleck depict a really strong male friendship that can sometimes become effected by a new girlfriend. Their relationship follows Smith’s familiar tropes of two male protagonists who are best friends (usually man-boys) who don’t understand women; one more sensitive and emotional the other cocky and amusing. However in this film it feels a lot more real and personal than the relationships in Clerks and Mallrats.

The film has other common Kevin Smith tropes including pop culture references including comic books, Star Wars, TV Shows and films. Characters referring to, going to or playing Hockey. Also keeping in the same Universe of Clerks we have a scene at Quick Stop Groceries and a Jay and Silent Bob cameo.

Chasing Amy is a sweet and personal film from Smith which shows a maturity as a filmmaker. Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Lee also help lift the material with great performances. It is not as funny as his previous films but Smith’s skills with dialogue is still very strong and the plot flows with great twists and turns. This is my favourite film of Smith’s thus far.

A+

Highlights:
– Dwight Ewell as Hooper X a black gay comic writer pretending to be a strong Black Activist, especially his opening scene at a Comic Book Convention.
– The idea of a comic book called Bluntman and Chronic based on Jay and Silent Bob

KEVIN SMITH RETROSPECTIVE FILM REVIEW: MALLRATS (1995)

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Brodie: My Grandmother always used to say “why buy the cow, when you can get the sex for free”.
T.S. Quint: She didn’t!
Brodie: All the time, before she became a lesbian on her 60th Birthday, but that’s besides the point.

Director: Kevin Smith

Writer: Kevin Smith

Synopsis: Both dumped by their girlfriends, two best friends seek refuge in the local mall.

Mallrats, Keven Smith’s sophomore feature is a steep drop in quality from the promise of his indie hit feature film Clerks. The plot, characters and jokes are all very lame and it is in some ways structurally very similar to Clerks. Two best friends; one is emotional and depressed with his life and the other is cocky, has witty dialogue and argues with his friend for not “manning” up and enjoying his life. However compared to Clerks these characters don’t have Dante and Randal’s chemistry. Jason Lee is a scene stealer similar to Jeff Anderson’s performance as Randal and he is the best thing in the movie. Jason Lee of course went on to a successful comedy career on screen and television and this breakout performance proves why. Jeremy London however is extremely bland and looks like he was picked out of a generic 90’s sitcom. He in no way compares to Brian O’Halloran’s performance as Dante in Clerks (Brian O’Halloran has a cameo in the conclusion of the film and you miss his presence from Clerks he should’ve been in this film more) even though he is his surrogate in this film. Another familiar trope from Clerks has our two protagonists spend a day in one location. He swapped a convenience store to a Mall. It parallels Kevin Smith’s career at this point as he made a small independent film based in a small convenience store and now he is more popular as a filmmaker has a larger budget with access to better actors and behind the scenes crew and he has his characters wonder around a giant Mall instead of being stuck in a small convenience store. It’s like a kid with bigger and better toys than his old broken ones but still plays the same game with them. Although he had a larger budget and professional actors he seems to be repeating the same beats as Clerks and the film suffers for it. It looks a lot better than Clerks, the actors and settings are also better however the overall plot arcs, jokes and characters are all quite boring and bland compared to the protagonists and bizarre customers in Clerks.

The film follows TS Quint (Jeremy London) who is dumped by his girlfriend Brandi (the beautiful Claire Forlani) because her father doesn’t like him and he is too clingy and wants to get married right away. Already a poor plot opener. TS’s best friend Brodie (Jason Lee) is also dumped by his girlfriend (Shannen Doherty, in her hot 90’s phase) for being a loser who lives downstairs in his Mom’s house and plays video games and reads comic books all day. The film does reference comic books and Star Wars a lot more having Kevin Smith’s passions start to filter through his films more. The two friends decide to spend their day in the Mall to get their minds off their dramas. Once they get to the mall they meet a few interesting characters including William (Ethan Suplee) a guy staring at a Magic eye image desperately trying to see the Sail boat everyone is seeing, Gwen (Joey Lauren Adams) who is just there to be cute and pretty and ogled by the male characters but nothing else, Shannon played by Ben Affleck in one of his earliest roles at his most unlikable and sleaziest, Tricia (Renee Humphrey) a 15 year old girl who is doing a research project on sex with different men and finally the link to the Kevin Smith Universe – Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith). I love Jay and Silent Bob however they seem a bit muted down in this film especially Jay compared to his foul mouth in Clerks and future installments he seems to be trying to play a proper character instead of a fun side character. There plot in the film is also pretty lame as they are asked to stop a dating game show run by Brandi’s father Svenning (played by Michael Rooker in a scene chewing bizarre performance) so TS can win back Brandi.

If you haven’t seen Clerks and you were a young teenager in the 90’s you would probably find some enjoyment in this film. However looking back today in 2018 after following Kevin Smith’s career this is definitely one of his lowest points in his film-making career.

D

Highlights:
– Stink Palm
– Stan Lee’s cameo and possibly his best performance in a film.
– The homages to Batman and Star Wars.
– The Comic Book Cover Artwork for each character in the opening credits
– All the comic book references and the representation of comic nerds that aren’t glass wearing skinny little boys they can be tough and cocky like Brodie. Don’t forget this was the 90’s when comics in the cinemas were portrayed as kiddie stuff. Kevin Smith treated it seriously and look where we are today.

KEVIN SMITH RETROSPECTIVE FILM REVIEW: CLERKS (1994)

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[Randal is on the phone when a woman and little girl come to the counter]
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Mom: Excuse me. But do you sell videotapes?
Randal Graves: Yeah, what’re you looking for?
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Mom: “Happy Scrappy Hero Pup”.
Randal Graves: Uh, one second. I’m on the phone with the distribution house now; lemme make sure they got it.
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Mom: ‘Kay.
Randal Graves: What’s it called again?
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Mom: “Happy Scrappy Hero Pup”.
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Kid: “Happy Scrappy”!
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Mom: She loves it.
Randal Graves: Obviously.
[into the phone]
Randal Graves: Uh, yeah, hi, this is RST Video calling. Customer #4352. I’d like to place an order. Okay, I need one each of the following tapes: “Whispers in the Wind”, “To Each His Own”, “Put It Where It Doesn’t Belong”, “My Pipes Need Cleaning”, “All Tit-Fucking, Volume 8”, “I Need Your Cock”, “Ass-Worshipping Rimjobbers”, “My Cunt and Eight Shafts”, “Cum Clean”, “Cum-Gargling Naked Sluts”, “Cum Buns 3”, “Cumming in Socks”, “Cum on Eileen”, “Huge Black Cocks with Pearly White Cum”, “Girls Who Crave Cock”, “Girls Who Crave Cunt”, “Men Alone 2: The K-Y Connection”, “Pink Pussy Lips”, oh yeah, and, uh, “All Holes Filled with Hard Cock”.
‘Happy-Scrappy’ Kid: “Scrappy”!
Randal Graves: Yup. Oh, wait a minute.
[to the woman]
Randal Graves: Uh, what was that called again?

Director: Kevin Smith

Writer: Kevin Smith

Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith

Synopsis: A day in the lives of two convenience clerks named Dante and Randal as they annoy customers, discuss movies, and play hockey on the store roof.

Inspired by the Richard Linklater independent film Slackers, Kevin Smith who was still a Film Studies College student decided to drop out and make a film himself with his friends. He got loans, maxed out his credit cards and convinced his friends and upcoming actors looking for a gig to join him to create a low-budget film based on a life in the day of a depressed Clerk Store worker. In Melbourne, Australia this would be the equivalent of working in a Milk Bar. Kevin Smith himself worked in a convenience store and came up with the story on those boring days stacking shelves and serving idiotic customers. The film mixes comedy with a side plot that borders on soap opera with the main character in a relationship but still pinning for the girl who got away in High School.

The film was a surprise hit when it came out in 1994 winning awards at Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival and it quickly became a cult hit with teens and young adults in the 90’s for its raunchy dialogue, witty script and relevance to a lot of disenfranchised young adults in the 90’s. Anyone who was working in a job they hated with dreams of more to life could easily connect to the character of Dante (Brian O’Halloran). Dante gets called into work on his day off, which becomes his catchphrase over the course of the film “I’m not even supposed to be here today”. He is a good guy and doesn’t want to upset his boss so he agrees to go to work even though he had planned a hockey match that afternoon (shades of Kevin Smith’s Hockey obsession are apparent here. Also after the 90’s any public appearance Kevin would always be wearing a hockey jersey). As Dante begins his day he has to deal with idiotic customers in and out. We are also introduced to his friend Randal (scene stealer Jeff Anderson) who works next door at the Video store. There conversations are where the film shines. From their musings on porn, Star Wars, customers, relationships all of it is gold and I believe makes this film break out the way it did.

There is a sub-plot involving Dante’s girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) who is good to him and tries to get him to move on with his life instead of wasting it working in the convenience store. Dante is disappointed when they share their sexual history and discovers she had felatio with many men. However the real reason Dante isn’t invested in Veronica is because he is still in love with his ex-girlfriend Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer) who he discovers is getting married. Over the course of the day Dante has to deal with his feelings for both girls, while also trying to fit in a Hockey game upstairs and attend a funeral which doesn’t go well. (Check youtube for the animated delted scene).

Kevin Smith is brilliant with dialogue. His humour mixes pop culture relevance with crude low-brow punchlines. Throughout his films he has a great way with words. I would say this is his strongest quality as a filmmaker. His films (especially Clerks) aren’t visually appealing. He is no Scorsese. He relies on slow takes letting the characters revel in the dialogue with each other. The acting isn’t the best either but as it is a low-budget first feature you can forgive these minor quibbles.

Re-watching the film today you can see a talented filmmaker on the rise to success. He took a chance and he was rewarded with a great career in filmmaking and pop-culture. All his films aren’t classics but they all have entertaining characters, tight plots and brilliant dialogue. This could possibly be his best film and put him on my map of directors to watch.

A

DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: KEVIN SMITH

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Kevin Smith has been one of my favourite figures in pop culture ever since I was a young boy and I rented Clerks from my local video shop. The film was ugly; it was black and white, it had odd transitional editing and poor acting. However the whole idea of making a low budget film in one location based on two slackers that are just doing a menial job to pay the bills and spend all day chatting about Star Wars, annoying customers and musing about the girls that got away when they were younger really appealed to me. Especially at the time I was working at McDonald’s in a similar situation. Doing a job I hated but spending all day talking about movies with my co-workers. Kevin Smith gave hope to those young dreamers to take a chance and go out and make a film yourself. His writing style is spectacular especially in his early New Jersey Chronicles/Jay and Silent Bob era. His dialogue and comedic plots were amazing. Mallrats didn’t hit as well as Clerks but he returned with the brilliant independent films Chasing Amy and Dogma. He turned to television and animation with the hilarious Clerks: The Animated Series in 2000. Inspired by his love of sitcoms and comic books. However the show was swiftly cancelled but grew a cult audience on DVD. He then directed the hilarious Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back which was intended to be the end of the Jay and Silent Bob era. He tried to create a dramatic comedy with Jersey Girl but after that failed with audiences and critics he returned to his roots with Clerks II a worthy sequel to his original independent film. The film was enjoyable to see the continuation of Dante and Randal and how they hadn’t moved on to better things since the original. After that he began to do tours around the globe chatting about his film career which lead to his famous podcast career. He continued to direct comedies including Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Cop Out. He then turned away from comedies and leant into different genres and explored the medium of film further with films like Red State and Tusk. He also collaborated with his daughter Harley Quinn Smith in the teen comedy Yoga Hosers. He directed a segment of the anthology film Holidays called Halloween.

I love following his podcasts on SModcast.com, he has great insight on the history of cinema and comic books. I feel a kinship to him as I love film-making, films and Batman! His ‘Fatman on Batman’ podcast is a must listen for all Batman fans especially his hilarious commentaries on the original 90’s Batman films. These days he directs TV Shows in the DC TV Universe on the CW specifically The Flash and Supergirl. He has stated that he wants to return to film-making and perhaps another Jay and Silent Bob film. Let’s hope so. Over the next few months I’ll be reviewing all of his films including some of his specials and TV Shows.

*I’ll also be interweaving retrospectives on Batman and Star Wars as Kevin Smith is a huge fan of both properties (and so am I).