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Lords of the Bong

This week, all the promised stuff, plus a tribute to the late George Harrison with special regard to his role as a patron of the cinema. But before we get started I'd just like to thank one of the local multiplex chains for their shoddy and unreliable listings without which this week's movie would have been reviewed a lot faster, but I wouldn't have been able to spend so many happy hours hanging around the pubs and supermarkets of the local marina. Keep up the good work, guys!

The Other Episode V

Jay and Silent Bob! Are there two more iconic figures in recent cultural history? Since they burst onto our screens in 1993, they've sold an awful lot of dope, whupped the Angel of Death's ass, sabotaged the US version of Blind Date, inspired the comic book Bluntman and Chronic, met God, and appeared in the video for that Afroman song. And now, finally, writer-director Kevin Smith has let them headline their own movie, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.

After helping to save the universe (in Smith's 1999 film Dogma) Jay and Bob (personable motormouth Jason Mewes and Smith himself) have returned to their traditional spot outside the Quick Stop convenience store. But this idyll is broken when store clerks Dante and Randall (Brian Halloran and Jeff Anderson, reprising their roles from Smith's 1993 debut Clerks) take out a restraining order banning them from the area. While complaining to their friend Brodie (Jason Lee, reprising his role from Smith's 1995 film Mallrats) they discover that their old friends Holden and Banky (Ben Affleck and Lee again, this time - yes, you've guessed it - reprising their roles from Smith's 1997 film Chasing Amy) have sold the film rights to Bluntman and Chronic, and a Miramax-backed adaptation is due to go before the cameras. Outraged that they're not getting a cut of the profits, but rather more concerned that their reputations will be trashed in perpetuity on the internet when the film tanks, the dope-addled duo set off for Hollywood to sabotage it...

There's an awful lot of reprising here and how you respond to it will probably determine whether you find this film hilarious and clever or a stupid waste of time. I must confess that I'm a big Kevin Smith fan, even to the point of growing my own goatee beard after the first time I saw Clerks (his work on Green Arrow for DC Comics has been pretty good too, if a bit self-indulgent). So I've got all the films this one refers to on tape already, and understood who everyone was and why Lee and Affleck play two roles apiece (Affleck pops up playing himself as well, and is thankfully less wooden than usual), but newcomers may find it all unintelligible nonsense.

Fellow Smith afficionados will have a good idea of what to expect: plenty of sexual and scatological humour, evidence of the director's obsession with comic books and Star Wars, and an incredibly verbose script concerning young men's relationship problems. And most of this is present and correct, though - as in Dogma - the relationship stuff is omitted, and - for the first time - this isn't an especially wordy film. Instead there's a cheerfully ludicrous, self-referential story about international jewel-thief babes, stolen orang-utans, and know-it-all internet film criti - oh... yes....

Moving swiftly on, most of the humour is split into two types: the broad, accessible, and almost-certain-to-offend-your-mum kind, including the most elaborate and special-effects intensive fart gag in history. Not usually my cup of tea, but here the shamelessness of it all was disarming. The other jokes are all rather more subtle ones at the expense of the film industry in general, and Smith's own career in general. There's a running joke about how stupid it would be to base an entire film on Jay and Silent Bob, many gags about how rubbish Chasing Amy and Mallrats were (they weren't that bad, Kev), and parodies of Good Will Hunting, The Matrix and Scooby Doo (this one features an unrecognisable Marc Blucas which may be an ultra-oblique reference to Sarah Gellar's role in the bona fide Scooby Doo movie out next year). Inevitably this all seems rather smug, on reflection, but at the time it was undeniably very funny.

As usual, Smith has assembled a remarkable cast (in itself the subject of another in-joke) with cameos from, amongst others, Matt Damon, Jason Biggs, Carrie Fisher, Chris Rock, Shannon Doherty, Mark Hamill and Wes Craven. Buffy fans may appreciate the sight of Eliza Dushku in a PVC catsuit - as director, Smith certainly seems to (and I know I did). Smith regulars like Joey Lauren Adams pop up briefly too.

It's become almost a cliche to add Kevin Smith's name to the list of directors who've never managed to live up to the promise of their sizzling early-90s debuts - yes, Tarantino and Rodrieguez, I'm talking about you - and by any normal standards Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back is a horribly flawed film that manages to be too clever for its' own good but still not as clever as it thinks it is. But it's clearly not intended to work as anything but a knockabout companion piece to Smith's other movies, and you should bear that in mind before going to see it. Personally I had a whale of a time, and laughed my botty off all the way through. Kevin, I salute you!

There's No Such Thing As The Average Citizen

UK Channel 4 devoted three hours to counting down the 'hundred greatest films of all time' last weekend - presumptuous, wot? Cheeringly, no-one particularly agreed with the list and here's where I have a go at it too.

I suppose there are two sorts of complaints you can make: films over- or under-rated within the hundred, and films wrongly in- or excluded. What on Earth is Pulp Fiction doing at no. 4 when the superior Reservoir Dogs doesn't even appear? Why is Enter the Dragon there at all, let alone above The Terminator? Why are three films from my own top twenty - Seven Samurai, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and A Matter of Life and Death - banished to the high 50s when dross like Titanic and The Full Monty is taking up space later in the countdown? Whither Raiders of the Lost Ark? Where is Brazil? And so on.

Well, you can't blame the voters for everything and it's my understanding that C4 amalgamated several other polls to create a short list of 100 which the votes simply ranked. This probably explains the mixed bag of movies on the list: some are art house or foreign classics, others are blockbusters. It's not clear whether this meant to be 'greatest' as in best or as in most popular, and it doesn't really succeed as either as a result. As is usual in these situations, a popular and democratic vote has produced a set of results no-one entirely agrees with. If this is the average citizen's 100 greatest films, it proves only one thing.

George Harrison 1943-2001

For the last few days the world has been mourning the loss of George Harrison - as an ex-Beatle, as a musician in his own right, and as an icon of a very special time in recent history. Obviously I don't have anything original or insightful to add, but I'd still like to commemorate Harrison's contribution to British cinema in the 1980s.

As the founder of Handmade Films, George Harrison was responsible for the making of a string of classic films - Monty Python's Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Mona Lisa, Withnail and I, and many others. By all accounts he was a model producer, simply providing the funding to allow writers and directors to make the films that they believed in. You could probably argue that it was this kind of uncritical largesse that ultimately led to Handmade's collapse, but in the final analysis all that counts is his marvellous legacy - both musical and cinematic. RIP.

Coming Soon: fingers crossed that I can find a cinema showing The 51st State despite the dodgy listings round here, and - the Harry Potter competition winner is announced! Don't fail to miss it.


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