Friday, July 21, 2006


Kevin Smith’s jolt of middle-age nostalgia makes “Clerks II” better than the original

Writer/director Kevin Smith returns to the stomping grounds of his 1994, breakthrough film “Clerks” and with the help of middle age nostalgia makes the rare movie sequel that’s better than the original.
Original leads Jeff Anderson and Brian O’Halloran are back as under-achievers Randall Graves and his longtime pal Dante Hicks. The fiery destruction of their longtime place of work, a rundown Quick Stop convenience store in New Jersey, is the gag that opens the film with a loving nod to the original tale. Rising from the ashes as non-spectacularly as possible, Graves and Hicks shift to equally dead-end jobs at a fast food joint named Mooby’s. Rosario Dawson sparkles as their pretty boss, Becky. Trevor Fehrman makes a welcome addition to the “Clerks” universe as Elias, a nerdy co-worker obsessed with the live action "Transformers" movie coming out next summer. Elias’ pop culture banter, a staple of Smith’s comedies, provides the biggest laughs in the film.
Gross Out gags, another Smith trademark, include a heavyset man having sex with a mule (Interspecies Erotica). They’re every bit as funny as they’re outrageous.
What sets Clerks II apart from Smith’s previous films (“Chasing Amy,” “Dogma,” “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” among others), what makes it the most enjoyable movie surprise of the summer, are the things Smith hasn’t tackled much before.
Sure, there are scenes of sweeping photography and a level of technical polish new to a Kevin Smith movie. But true growth lies in the sweetness, romance and yes, nostalgia, that Smith shows for his New Jersey slackers.
Randall and Dante ride go-karts to the sounds of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” as a means to unwind. In the film’s best scene, Dante wants to learn how to dance and Becky teaches him on the Mooby’s rooftop. Dante watches Becky dance to The Jackson Five’s “ABC” with a look of pure love.
It’s a wonderful, joyous moment, one that complements the film’s raunchy chitchat and gross out gags perfectly.
The world of American independent cinema has changed a lot since the guerrilla, no-money days when Smith made “Clerks.”
Smith has changed, too. He’s learned that gags work better when you surround them with a meaningful story.

The Weinstein Company will release “Clerks II” in theaters across North America July 21.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Let Us Now Praise: Maggie Gyllenhaal in ‘Sherrybaby’

The 2006 Karlovy Vary Film Festival has recently wrapped in the Czech spa town and writer/director Laurie Collyer won the Best Film Prize for her blue-collar melodrama “Sherrybaby.”
Maggie Gyllenhaal won a Best Actress Award for her starring role in the film; cementing an opinion I’ve had about her for some time.
Not only the brightest female star of American independents, Gyllenhaal is queen of the industry dance, meaning a constant jog between smaller, independent films and larger, more mainstream studio features. Actors, whether upcoming or veteran, practice this jog but what sets Gyllenhaal apart is the way she boosts mediocre films (the sloppy L.A. ensemble drama “Happy Endings” and the period college tale “Mona Lisa Smile” come immediately to mind) no matter their size.
When the storytelling is solid, as is the case with “Sherrybaby,” Gyllenhaal dazzles with the type of everyday, off-the-street character that has become her trademark.
Gyllenhaal plays Sherry Swanson, a single mom just released from prison who wants a decent job and the chance to raise her five-year-old daughter. Drug addiction is the demon that keeps her from achieving her dreams. Character actor Danny Trejo (pictured above with Gyllenhaal) complements Gyllenhaal as a fellow twelve-stepper. Giancarlo Esposito adds edge to the story as a parole officer on Swanson’s back.
Collyer, directing her first fiction film and just her sophomore feature after the documentary Nuyorican Dream, never strays far from recognizable formula. “Sherrybaby” would have benefited from a surprise or two.
Watched for the first time at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, “Sherrybaby” may not have been my favorite festival drama. But Gyllenhaal shines through every hard-knock scene with emotional certainty. In her hands, “Sherrybaby” transforms from a likable working class woman’s picture into a movie that’s heads and shoulders above most of the summer’s art-house releases.

“Sherrybaby” made its premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and continues to play festivals around the world.
IFC Films will release “Sherrybaby” in major U.S. cities on August 25.

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