Chasing Amy


Chasing Amy

This is what cool looked like in 1997.

(1997) Romantic Comedy (Miramax) Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Matt Damon, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Dwight Ewell, Carmen Lee, Rebecca Waxman, Welker White, Kelli Simpkins, John Willyung, Ethan Suplee, Casey Affleck. Directed by Kevin Smith

Director Kevin Smith became the critic’s darling after Clerks, then became the critic’s whipping boy after Mallrats. This is the third movie set in what Smith calls his Askewniverse, a small trio of New Jersey towns called, oddly enough, the “tri-town area” (which actually exists, and Smith actually grew up there), inhabited by stoners, slackers, libertines and jerks. In short, it’s the real world, without the annoying odors.

Ben Affleck lives in this world, or rather he plays someone who does. That someone is Holden McNeil, a successful comic book artist (Smith is something of a fanboy who is heavily involved in the four-color world of comic books) who’s best friend Banky (Lee) is also his writer and business partner.

Their superheroes are based on the exploits of two guys familiar to Smith fans; Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), and the book they draw has reached a level of success that has attracted the attention of MTV (look for Matt Damon in a cameo as a smarmy Empty Vee exec) who want to turn it into an animated series. There is a nice scene where they’re confronted by J&SB who are predictably none too happy that the characters based on them are doing so well.

At a convention, Holden meets struggling artist Alyssa Jones (Adams) and falls in love with her. It soon turns out that Alyssa is a lesbian, and perfectly content to be one. Hope springs eternal, however, and Holden eventually confesses his feelings for her. In a somewhat unlikely turn, she falls for him as well (and you’ve gotta love a movie where the lead actress is an unlikely bet to fall for Ben Affleck). That’s where things go sour.

Unlikely many romantic movies, this is a relationship between imperfect people who can – and do – say and do the wrong things. Smith has a gift for being able to expose you to differing viewpoints and enable you to relate to all of them, diverse as they may be. This is ostensibly a comedy, with some hellacious laughs in it (the bit in which acerbic gay black artist Hooper X (Ewell) tries to convince the frenetic Banky that Archie is actually gay is hysterical), but this is also a movie that forces you to examine your own viewpoints, especially as they relate to your own relationships.

We are all chasing Amy, the metaphor Smith uses for searching for the perfect partner, our life’s soulmate. Many times we find that partner, only to screw up the relationship. Then, forever, we are measuring our partners against The One that Got Away (this is particularly a guy thing, but it can be a girl thing as well). Too often, we end up messing up by trying to fit our partners within our preconceived notions of what they should be, rather than accepting them the way they are.

It might come as somewhat of a surprise to some that this is my favorite Kevin Smith movie, even more so than his more beloved Clerks. Then again, I understand from his Wikipedia page that many critics feel the same, although Clerks continues to be the movie Smith is most identified with. Maybe that’s why he is planning on retiring from film directing after his next movie. Still, Chasing Amy remains one of his best-reviewed films ever.

There’s good reason for that. There are times Chasing Amy is actually painful to watch, as you realize that with one thoughtful word said (and sometimes, one thoughtless word not said) things would be great between Holden and Alyssa. That they aren’t makes this a movie we can all actually relate to – and learn from.

WHY RENT THIS: Smith’s best film ever. A real world romantic comedy that deals with real world relationship issues. Relatable to most viewers who have ever messed up a romance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Smith can be an acquired taste. Lots of pop culture references dates this a little.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a fair amount of bad language, much of it related to sex. There’s also some sexuality and drug use as well as some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Smith was dating Joey Lauren Adams at the time and wrote the movie based on his experiences with her.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The DVD was released as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection and while there aren’t a ton of features beyond the usual DVD making-of and commentary fare, the director commentary is one of the best ever released. While the film has yet to get released on Blu-Ray on it’s own, it was released as part of a Kevin Smith Blu-Ray Collection along with Clerks and Mallrats. While the excellent commentary track wasn’t ported over to the Blu-Ray edition (because the rights to it belong to Criterion) there are some excellent features, including a 10th Anniversary Q&A session with the cast and a conversation with Smith and Adams long after their relationship came to an end that is sometimes poignant and awkward but is mostly funny and charming.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.2M on a $250,000 production budget; the movie was a blockbuster relative to it’s low budget.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: After.life

The Great Buck Howard


The Great Buck Howard

Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt are blissfully ignorant that Steve Zahn just grabbed John Malkovich's privates.

(2008) Comedy (Magnolia) John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Ricky Jay, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne, Debra Munk, Wallace Langham, Adam Scott, George Takei. Directed by Sean McGinley

Show biz is heroin. It gets into the system and stays there, mercilessly demanding the entire attention of the poor sap who gets addicted to it, until there is nothing left but a chewed-out husk. Once in awhile, it brings the seductive allure of success and acclaim, but more often than not, disappointment and obscurity.

Buck Howard (Malkovich) is a mentalist (don’t call him a magician unless you want to be chewed out and humiliated) who has 61 appearances on the Tonight Show – the real one, the one with Johnny Carson hosting, not the one with that Leno fellow. However, since his heyday Buck has fallen on hard times, taking his act to smaller and less glamorous venues, but with the never-say-die attitude of a true show biz trooper, cries out in every Podunk Berg he plies his trade in, “I love this town!!” followed by “I love you people!” Both are about as heartfelt as a 10-year-old saying he didn’t eat the cookies.

Howard is in need of a new road manager, and he gets one in the form of Troy Gable (Colin Hanks), who has left law school in search of something more meaningful, much to the dismay of his dad (Tom Hanks, Colin’s real-life pa). Troy quickly discovers that Buck’s unctuous charm is a mask that hides a bitter man who refuses to admit that his best days are behind him, yet is deeply afraid that it is so. He resolutely soldiers on, a relic in a time of extreme street magic and wacky comic magicians, wearing a tux and warbling “What the World Needs Now” in a say-singing manner at the piano. Once upon a time he would have felt right at home with Steve and Edie. Hell, maybe he did.

Buck realizes he needs to jump-start his career and decides to take on a stunt guaranteed to get attention; but at the moment of his triumph, it all comes crumbling down when the reporters in attendance leave to get on a bigger story – a minor traffic accident involving Jerry Springer.

But such is the netherworld that the has-been exists in, a purgatory of missed opportunities and that oh-so-close taste of the brass ring that is never completely swallowed. Yet Buck becomes hip in spite of himself and when a Vegas show opens up for him, the show biz Gods have an even crueler fate in store for him.

McGinley based the movie on his own experiences as road manager for the Amazing Kreskin years ago. Hopefully, Kreskin was nicer than Buck is; Malkovich plays him as a diva with anger management issues, fixing his minions with withering glares and outbursts of vitriol that would do Gordon Ramsay proud.

The younger Hanks goes for a kind of hangdog performance, making Troy both victim and enabler. His romance with publicist Valerie (Brennan) is sad and ultimately distracting, but it is his relationship with Buck that centers the movie. While you get the sense that Troy is meant for bigger and better things, Buck also senses it and in a sense, envies him – and in the end finds his own vicarious success through Troy.

The movie’s pacing is somewhat deliberate; those who like their jokes rapid-fire may find this annoying. For my part, I found it refreshing that the filmmakers chose to take their time and establish atmosphere and characters, allowing audiences access to the movie’s heart. To my way of thinking, that’s much more gratifying than being assaulted by one gag after another.

This is not glamorous in the least; it’s about the vast majority of those who go into show biz with some dream of success and wind up sorely disappointed. In Buck’s case, that success was there for awhile but like a fickle lover, moved on to the next flavor of the week, leaving Buck to wallow in memory trying to recapture something that never can be truly kept.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie has a real sense of fun and looks at a less glamorous side of the business. Hanks and Malkovich make a good team.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie takes it’s time which may not sit well with audiences used to much faster-paced comedies.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some language issues, as well as a sexual and drug reference or two, but by and large acceptable for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Buck is depicted as appearing on MTV’s TRL show, which had been canceled between the time the movie was filmed and when it was released.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a small featurette on the Amazing Kreskin whose real-life exploits were the loose inspiration for Buck.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $900K on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this probably lost a few bucks.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Skyline