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Randal (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O'Halloran) are back, and just as unhappy about their jobs as ever. After the Quick Stop burns to the ground, our disgruntled professionals are forced to find employment at a fast food burger joint called Mooby's. Dante has found love, and at the end of today's shift will be on his way to Florida with his fiancé. Needless to say, Randal isn't happy about the prospect of being best friend-less. Matters are complicated when Dante begins to realize his true feelings for his store manager, Becky (Rosario Dawson), and must make an important choice in a matter of hours.

Clerks II: Special Edition
I was the perfect age for the original Clerks when it came out. I was in high school, and my band had retrofitted my dad's garage with a TV, a VCR, and a crude surround sound system. We practiced on Saturdays, and then watched movies loudly while eating junk food all night long. Clerks was on the menu pretty much every weekend. Over the years I've gotten a little sick of it.

In turn, I ended up pretty sick of the whole View Askewiverse. I've since found new love for Dogma, but honestly thought Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was one of the most disappointing trips to the movie theatre I'd made in years. I just didn't think it was funny. After Jay and Silent Bob Kevin Smith said he wasn't going to make any more flicks in his hometown universe, and as a bored film goer I was happy. Then his first post Silent Bob film was Jersey Girl, and it looked pretty dull. I never saw it, but apparently no one else did either. After that failure Smith announced he was going back to his 'roots', and I (like a lot of folks) pretty much gave up.

The one bit of the Askewiverse I still held close was the Clerks animated series (ask my friends, I quote it all the time), which may be one of the most underrated, short lived TV series ever cancelled after three episodes. Smith's return to familiar territory was going to be with these characters I actually still liked, though I assumed in a less fantastical sense. When I heard that Rosario Dawson would be co-staring, and that the flick got an eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes, I almost, almost went to see it in theatres. In the end I still wasn't excited enough about Smith or his universe to spend the ten bucks.

I was wrong to judge the film, but in my defence there really wasn't any evidence in favour of the thing being any good. My reservations were not at all unfounded. The final product isn't a masterpiece, but it's about as good as we can expect Smith and Co. to muster, and what Smith can muster is heart—a big, fat, blood oozing, glucose laden, cholesterol-encrusted heart.

Clerks II: Special Edition
Clerks II takes a long time getting to the good stuff—a really long time. I'm not saying that the first forty-five minutes aren't amusing or important to the overall plot, but up until the moment Jason Lee shows up as a successful co-high school graduate of Randal and Dante's, I was revelling the fact that I was right. I was positive that this guy had nothing left to say about life, art, or film. Long, boring conversations about pop-culture, and crude sex jokes for the sake of crude sex jokes are so 1994. Lord of the Rings versus Star Wars? Lame. Minus one potent scene between Dawson and O'Halloran, this wasn't an impressive return.

After Lee's appearance, and Anderson's reaction to it, I was presented with a new film. Clerks II actually did have something to say, and it was ‘be yourself’. If I'd read that sentence I just typed I'd be even more judgmental of the film going into it, but I mean it in a positive way. There really are only two salvageable places you can take the characters from the original film, you can make them happy in their element, or take them out of it. Or I suppose you can kill them, but that's the alternate View Askewiverse as seen on the deleted scenes on the original film. Smith picks the harder choice and brings about genuine warm fuzzy feelings.

The tree's vein is tapped, and the sap flows freely, but it's not cheap sap, it's the refined, expensive stuff you have to buy at the carpeted grocery store. It's the kind of sap that makes you feel good and a little ashamed of yourself as the end credits roll. It's the kind of sap filmmakers like John Hughes have refined for years, and that's what Smith seems to have always wanted to be in the end, the new, potty-mouthed John Hughes. There are some great speeches here, where characters bare there soles to one another in a very Hughes like fashion, only these aren't angsty, antipathist teens, they're adults approaching middle age whose stories I can related to. Yeah, there's a silly musical sequence where the characters stew in self-pity (and the irony of how much Smith hates Magnolia was not lost on me for a second), but we don't, and shouldn't expect David Mamet from Kevin Smith. Perhaps we should expect something slightly funnier from Smith, but perhaps this is all part of the growing experience.

Clerks II: Special Edition
At his best Kevin Smith has always been able to do poignant emotions, what impresses me is his growth in filmmaking beyond writing. Clerks II looks good, which is more than I can say for most of the Smith cannon. There are beautiful crane and tracking shots throughout, no-centred framing, and a definite lack of static cameras. The film reunites Smith with cinematographer David Klein for the first time since Chasing Amy, and the amount to which the couple has grown is immense. I'm also very impressed with Smith's editing abilities, for which he takes the sole credit.

The fact that I didn't find the film particularly hilarious is no fault of the actors, who sell the jokes with total conviction. What can be blamed on the actors, as much as the writer/director, is the fact that the film moved me. Rosario Dawson is always good, so I almost feel no need to praise her for doing her thing, but Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson deserve some props and high-fives. O'Halloran has always been the whiny, straight man, and Anderson the smart-ass, but several scenes see them emoting just like real people trapped in a total bummer of a situation. I'm not sure if I can credit them for staying in character because they seem to be these guys in real life, but I believed them, and not once did I think I was watching a amateur attempt performance, I was watching actors at work.

Video


Shot on HD to save time and money (edt: I'm wrong, it was shot of film but digitally processed in some magical way in post), Clerks II looks fantastic. It's medium budgeted and doesn't have a lot of bravado visuals, but everything here is crisp, clean, and detailed. I was most impressed with flesh tones during shadowed sequences, which showed little to no cross-colouration or noise, the bane of some of the best transfers on the market. There is some noise here and there, but nothing beyond what should be expected from the medium. Had there been more night shots (almost the entire film takes place under the warm glow of fluorescent lights) there may've been more grain or low-level noise. I can't call it perfect due to the lack of contrast, but it's one of the better non-animated discs I've seen in a while.

Clerks II: Special Edition

Audio


I can't abide by Smith's taste in music. Some of it's okay, and some of it works for the scene, but often it's too obvious. There's been some great use of acquired songs in film lately, especially songs that've been played out, or weren't good in the first place (see Devil's Rejects, The Matador, or Layer Cake), and I was hoping for more of this re-appropriation from Clerks II. Oh well.

The film is song heavy, but not sound effect heavy, so to judge the Dolby Digital soundtrack one must take Smith's intentions to heart. The music sounds very good, though sometimes it's awkwardly split amongst the surround channels, leaving the centre channel empty. LFE is huge, to the point that I actually turned down my subwoofer. I hate the song 'Frustrated Incorporated', I hate it, but it sounds great here (great being a relative term). Smith dialogue is always clear, and the occasional sound effect is high in its fidelity.

Extras


Fans know they can count on Smith to deliver good DVD extras, and he does not disappoint here. The first disc of this two-disc set houses not one, but three commentary tracks, a hefty selection of deleted scenes, and a featurette on ‘interspecies erotica’. Disc two has a feature-length documentary about the making of the film, trailers, bloopers, and hours of behind the scenes footage originally created for the web.

Kevin and friends can always be depended on for entertaining commentary tracks. The first is Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and DP David Klein. They call it the 'technical track', and that pretty much sums it up. It's technical, and great for people interested in the filmmaking process.

Clerks II: Special Edition
The second track is the cast track, and is the best track. I laughed quite a bit more at this track than I did while running the film in Dolby Digital. Anyone who's heard any other Smith track knows what to expect here, and there is no disappointment to be had. The most intriguing part of the track is Jason Mewes, who is now sober, actually seems to have something to add to the conversation this time.

The last track is a podcast track. I don't really know the story behind it, but I guess it was something fans could stick on their iPods before seeing the film for a second time, and thusly not have to wait for the DVD release for a commentary. It's a cool idea, but with two solid tracks already adorning the disc it seems a little moot, though there actually isn't too much of the same ground covered. Only for hardcore fans.

There's a decent selection of deleted scenes, all of which feature an introduction by Smith and Mosier (who self indulgently introduce just about every thing on the set, including the film itself). As per the norm, the film is better without these scenes, but they're good to have.

The first disc finishes itself with a featurette about Zak Knutson and his ‘Interspecies Erotica’ scene. The making of the scene is funnier than the scene itself, and the featurette finishes with Knutson saying that he told his mother that she's not allowed to see the finished film. It's cute.

Clerks II: Special Edition
Disc two brings us to the making-of documentary entitled ‘Back to the Well: Clerks II’. This is a great doc, very entertaining, well shot and edited, and it covers everything you ever needed to know about the making of the film. The doc's creators are careful to include footage of Smith stating publicly that he'd never again be revisiting the characters of his Askewiverse post Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, along with new interview footage of Smith admitting that he felt down on himself after the failure of Jersey Girl. Every problem met and conquered prior to filming is covered, including the fan disapproval, and actor Jeff Anderson's initial disinterest.

The varying array of actresses approached to play the role Rosaria Dawson eventually took is impressive, as is the story of Jason Mewes' road to sobriety, and it's all here. The actual filming process is slightly glossed over, but that's what those hours of production diaries are for. The story behind the making of the film is, as seems to happen quite often, more interesting and valuable than the film itself, and the whole thing culminates with the film's Cannes premiere. I knew about the eight-minute standing ovation, but there's still quite a bit of suspense to behold, as I didn't realize how much of Smith's personal mental health was riding on the event. That's the real meat of the matter, the human drama behind the scenes.

The blooper reel is long, but there's some gold in the mix. Personally, I just feel more in love with Rosario Dawson, who shouts ‘Mooby’s’ in an adorable little voice every time someone says cut. Often these things aren't worth it, but Smith culled out the junk here, it seems.

And it's all wrapped up with the web based production diaries, entitled ‘Train Wrecks’. I lied a bit when I said there were hours of them, technically there's just two hours of them. Each featurette is about ten minutes long, and some are better than others, but they're a great addition to the full documentary. My favourite was actually the first one, which features Jason Mewes and Smith getting hair weaves to look more like the original versions of their characters.

Clerks II: Special Edition

Overall


I liked this film a whole bunch more than I thought I would. It's not highly recommend to non-fans, but even casual fans should give it an open-minded look. The DVD is great, featuring a really gorgeous video transfer, and a big old array of extras. This is a nice send off for the View Askewiverse, though I'm not sure I believe Kevin Smith is entirely done.


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