Thursday, October 31, 2019

My Halloween-themed KISS Album

Over on The KISS Room Facebook page last week, Matt Porter posed a fascinating question: Create a spooky, Halloween-themed KISS album. I offered a few songs, saw some others, and did the obvious: make my own tracklist.

With this theme, naturally the songs of Gene Simmons would dominate. But he's not the only singer in the band. As such, I crafted a 13-song CD. Each song more or less has a darker vibe, and the sequence is intended to have a through-line.

Title: All Hallow's KISS

1. God of Thunder
2. Creatures of the Night
3. Within
4. Parasite
5. Psycho Circus
6. Naked City
7. Strange Ways
8. Rain
9. Goin' Blind
10. Almost Human
11. The Devil is Me
12. A World Without Heroes
13. Dreamin'

I originally had Dreamin' as track 8, but that would have left a rather depressing end to the record: Almost Human | The Devil is Me | A World Without Heroes. So the listener gets to experience the KISS Halloween album and then come out on the other end just a tad bit happy because it's only a dream.

Favorite Performances in Kevin Smith Films

After I ranked all twelve of Kevin Smith's films yesterday, here are my favorite performances. Tune in tomorrow for my favorite scenes, including at least one from Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

Joey Lauren Adams in Chasing Amy - If I had to pick a single performance over all of Kevin Smith's films that was my favorite, it would be Adams. She knocked it out of the park both in the small scenes and especially in emotionally anguishing scenes. She could open the character's heart so warmly when she answers the "Why me?" question, and then lets you feel the utter betrayal outside the hockey rink. Wonderful.

Ben Affleck in Jersey Girl - Going into this film cold--I didn't watch the trailer ahead of time--I was able to experience Gertie's death at the same time as Ollie. Now, unlike him, my Dad Switch turned on the day my boy was born. It was fascinating to watch Ollie come around to know what is most important. His monologue to his baby was magnificent. And his chemistry with his co-star is palpable.

Raquel Castro in Jersey Girl - When you have child actors, often a movie rests on their shoulders. Think E.T. or The Sixth Sense. With Jersey Girl, Castro is the titular character. She is fantastic. You can easily believe she is Affleck's daughter. Her anguish when she hears Ollie say he wants his old life back is only tempered by the scene in which she forgives him. And that look she gives her dad when he shows up on stage to sing with her: Priceless! Her last hug with Affleck when she swipes her hand over his face: equally as priceless.

Jason Lee in Chasing Amy - Lee as Brodie in Mallrats is marvelously smirking, but Lee as Banky in Chasing Amy is something else. Snarky as all get out, Lee brings depth to the performance, especially as the film progresses. That last scene when he mimes to Affleck's Holden is great. His "Sure" response to Holden's stunningly stupid proposal is just as good as his "That, my friend, was a shared moment."

George Carlin in Jersey Girl - My knowledge of Carlin almost begins and ends with Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I know, I know, but I just never got around to watching his shows. But him in this role as a crusty old grandfather who knows what's best for his son is really well done, especially on my second viewing. The little moments here and there show there's a lot of depth in him. Loved him in this role.

Michael Parks in Tusk - In both Tusk and Red State, Parks gives brilliant performances, but he shines in Tusk. His way of telling stories to Justin Long's character is mesmerizing. He makes you believe Howard Howe is truly insane in the most underrated way: the subtle approach.

Elizabeth Banks in Zack and Miri Make a Porno - In a romcom as only Kevin Smith could write--with porn--this movie wasn't my favorite. But Banks is this film's shining star. Her eyes open up Miri in such an honest way. The love-making scene is really well done, as is the ending when Zack finally gets his head out of his butt and realizes the truth.

Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp in Yoga Hosers - This is a film you watch for the performances more so than the story itself. The story is over-the-top, but the performances of these two actresses are stellar. I will happily watch anything these two are in, even if it is Moose Jaws.

NOTE: I made a point with this list to select one actor per role, but I really enjoyed Jason Lee in Mallrats as the pseudo narrator and Ben Affleck in Chasing Amy. Affleck's scene in the car when he lays out his feelings is his best of the film.

Honorable Mentions: [for a single scene]


Jeff Anderson in Clerks II - I'll be honest: for most of Clerks II, Randal annoyed the crap out of me. His merciless harassing of Elias, his ordering of Dante's going-away gift, and his general poor outlook on every human frankly irritated the crap out of me. But his raw declaration of love to Dante in the jail cell is so, so good. One of the best moments of the entire Smith filmography.

Brian O'Halloran in Clerks II - O'Halloran's Dante is constantly rolling his eyes at Randal's comments, but he's also a man stuck in a bad position. "She'll eventually get me" is his acceptance of his lot in life. While that's heartbreaking, the scene on the roof when Becky teaches him to dance is fantastic. When Dante sees Becky in a brand-new light, he realizes he loves her. O'Halloran does it in a single scene with no words, but it all there on his face. Best Dante scene in all the movies.

Ralph Garman in Yoga Hosers - I have listened to Garman do his impressions on his Hollywood Babble On podcasts for years. I listen to him every weekday on The Ralph Report. But I have never *seen* him do his impressions. This was a boffo performance that had me grinning from ear to ear, especially considering he spoke not a word in Red State and only a single scene in Tusk.

Jason Mewes in Mallrats - Of all the entrances Jay and Silent Bob did in the movies, this was by far my favorite. Jay's little dance makes me laugh every time. His constant bickering with Bob to stop trying to use his Jedi powers is a funny through line. And his simple "What else are we gonna do?" line, delivered in the most natural "Duh" voice is perfect.

Kevin Smith in Chasing Amy - Joey Lauren Adams aside, this one scene in Chasing Amy when Smith as Silent Bob spills this juicy nugget of truth to himself and all the folks who watch this film is golden. And he didn't deliver the lines with any sort of bravado. Bob was a defeated man here, a man living with the knowledge he let his Amy get away and now he's stuck with Jay. Just hearing him dish this tale you know Smith likely dealt with something similar. That he wrote these lines in the year or two before he met his wife probably helped him to appreciate her when they finally me.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I Finally Ranked All of Kevin Smith's Films

Now that I've caught up with most of the world and watched all of Kevin Smith's films to date, I get to see the latest one tonight. I'll be attending the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot roadshow as it lands here in Houston at the River Oaks Theater. It is for an event like this that I started watching all  the Smith after missing them all for the past twenty-five years. 

Tune in next week for my review of the new flick [and read to the end on my prediction of where Reboot lands], but in lieu of a review today, I thought I'd rank the existing 12 films as I enjoyed them. 

When I started thinking about it, three immediately jumped to the front. They all jockeyed for position, but even as I write this, I'm not sure which one will come out on top. My fourth pick is already set. The last spot is also set.

Remember: I'm a fifty-year-old dude watching these films for the first time starting in the summer of 2019. I didn't watch these films in real time for the past twenty-five years, growing and aging with the films and the director and the fan base. For each film, I did no initial research, which included not watching any trailers. I took each film as it was presented on screen.

Links to the original reviews are in each title. Don't forget the Introduction to learn where I started.

So here we go, in reverse order.

12. Red State - Despite the brilliant opening scene in which Michael Parks shows up on screen, Red State is easily the film I dislike the most. Easily bottom of my list. No contest. I appreciated the indie spirit with which it was made and distributed, but that's about it.

11. Tusk - Smith got his indie mojo back with this film and it shows. Loved seeing it, especially after the previous four films didn't really have it. Michael Parks could read the phone book and I'd buy the audio, the DVD, and a ticket, so him telling stories to Justin Long's Wallace was mesmerizing. But despite those truly wonderful moments, this film didn't strike me where I enjoy being.

10. Dogma - So, I'm writing this list about four months after I watched Dogma which, until Red State, was the film I disliked the most. But unlike Red State, Dogma is kind of a blank. Other than the ending and the presence of Alan Rickman delivering Smith dialogue like only Rickman can, I can barely recall much of this movie. It's not active dislike. It's more indifference. A shrug.

9. Zack and Miri Make a Porno - It's a romcom as only Smith can do it. I enjoy romcoms. Always have. There's some stuff in here I didn't like, but two scenes--Zack and Miri's lovemaking and the brainstorming--elevate this film. I liked the ending, but Zack was too dense and dumb to have said those things earlier in the film.

8. Yoga Hosers -  I asserted in the review that sometimes you watch a film for the performances no matter the plot. That's the case here. Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp are great in this film and I'd watch anything they're in. Johnny Depp seems to be having a blast being able to just be an actor. And Ralph Garman gets to show off his impressive impressions. A highlight of the entire run of Smith films for sure.

7. Cop Out - When I was watching the movie and making notes, I wrote this was Lethal Weapon lite, a throwback to the kinds of movies made in the 1980s. I loved those movies so I generally enjoyed this film even if I still pine for a buddy cop movie written by Smith himself.

6. Clerks - In my review, I posed the question if you could be too old to see Clerks for the first time. Maybe. What I saw in this movie as I saw it for the first time in 2019--fun talk about pop culture among friends--is the world I've always known. Now, it just seems like all those folks are now in positions of power and influence so we're getting umteen reboots to fuel our nostalgia. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it makes the impact of the original 1994 film less when you see it in 2019.

5. Clerks II - Why does this film rank higher than the original? Two scenes. As I'm writing this list, it's been nearly four months since I watched Clerks. Other than a couple of things, I can't remember much of the movie. With Clerks II, not only do I remember a scene I dislike (inter-species erotica), but I also remember two scenes quite well: the utterly charming rooftop dance sequence coupled with Dante's realization he loves Becky and Randal's raw and emotional declaration of love to Dante. Both swelled my heart and elevate this film.

4. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back - In the review, I compared this film to the Muppet Movie. Still holds true. It's wacky, irreverent, and chock full of every joke Smith could conceive. I suspect Reboot will be just like this, but with more heart.

3. Mallrats - So much to love in this film. A lot like Clerks, but with more heart. The antics of Jay and Silent Bob are akin to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (read the review for context). The intro to Jay and Bob on screen is my favorite of all of them. It's a warmhearted story told by a twentysomething for other twentysomethings...and everyone else.  Jason Lee is perfect in this film. Loved the ending. And it's wildly hilarious.

[Going into ranking the Top 2, I re-watched both Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl. My love for both of them rose, but only one can came out on top.]

2. Chasing Amy - I think for many of you, this is Smith's best film. And, for me, it's nearly a tie at the top. But, as you'll read in a minute, this fifty-year-old dad can relate much more to the heartaches of being a dad versus the highs and lows of dating in your twenties. Even when I was in my twenties, my dating life wasn't nearly as painful as what Holden and Banky and Alyssa endure.

  • Still, this movie stars Joey Lauren Adams who, without question, gave the best performance in any Smith movie. When I think of favorite scenes in Smith's films, she's in three right off the bat. 
  • Jason Lee's Banky is wonderful (and a nice counterpoint to his turn in Mallrats) and Affleck has some great moments, too. 
  • A truly great film that would be at the top if not for the heartstrings only a dad can appreciate.

1. Jersey Girl - When I re-watched this film, I had my original notes beside me. In a different color ink, I made additional notes of things I saw the second time that affected me more.
  • George Carlin's role stood out even more so than the first. A great, yet gruff dad.
  • When Ollie and Gertie (Lopez) are told they're pregnant (and me remembering that moment in my own life). 
  • Ben's speech to baby Gertie, saying "I'm just your dad." 
  • The introduction of Raquel Castro when you see her face and Ollie says "You're chariot awaits." 
  • The realization that Ollie did what any parent would do when faced with raising a child: anything, including sweeping streets and sewer work. 
  • Liv Tyler as Mya is perfect casting as the slightly dorky love interest who almost trips over her own feet and words at times. 
  • The general chemistry between Affleck, Castro, and Carlin. 
  • The dual "What are your intentions?" scenes
  • The scene when Ollie and Gertie yell at each other about moving back to the city. Gut punch.
  • The "Hi, Daddy," line Castro says when Ollie comes to apologize. 
  • Gertie's line about if her mom loved the city "Then I guess I'll love it, too." when you realize the child changed for the dad. 
  • The realization that the child forgave the parent. Truly humbling. 
  • "I'm just a guy who'd rather play in the dirt with his kid." One of the best lines of dialogue about being a parent. All the feels.
  • The utter perfection when Gertie sees Ollie on stage and realizes he made it in time. Tears both times I saw the movie. Ever more feels.
  • Gertie touching her dad's face during that last dance. All the feels again.

In my review, I asked in what world was this film a bomb? Well, I finally watched the behind-the-scenes bit on the DVD and Kevin Smith himself has an answer: "You have to be a totally jaded prick not to like this movie."

I am far from a jaded prick. I am a man, a dad, who wears his heart and emotions on his sleeve. I tear up when I see those videos of soldiers/dads returning and surprising their kids. I tear up when I read about pets and animals. I tear up when I see stories about everyday folks helping out each other.

And I teared up multiple times when I saw this film the first time. It hit me square in the middle of my heart and I love it. I'm ready for it to have that second life some films get when time has passed and a re-evaluation occurs.

-----

So there you go: My ranking of all twelve of Kevin Smith's films. It's been a fantastic viewing experience, and I'm looking forward to seeing Jay and Silent Bob Reboot tonight in Houston.

In case you can't tell, I'm a fan of films that have heart. In all of his talk on various podcasts about Reboot, Smith comes out and says this new film has lots of heart. He knows he can make us laugh. Now, he's going to see how well he makes us cry. I'm all in for that. So I'm heading to the River Oaks Theater tonight expecting multiple scenes that'll pull those tears right out of my eyes.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Prediction


My prediction of where Reboot will land on the Kevin Smith Films Ranked List? Probably #3 or #4. Reboot will likely be more heartwarming than Strike Back, so it'll be a battle between Reboot and Mallrats to determine the blend of stoner humor and heartwarming emotion. I can't wait to find out.

Tune in tomorrow for a list of my favorite performances in Smith's films. [I already gave away the top spot.]

Friday I'll list my favorite scenes.

Next week, return for my write-up of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 43

Who's doing NaNoWriMo?

This coming Friday is 1 November, the month associated with National Novel Writing Month. Thirty days, 50,000 words, no looking back, just charge ahead.

I'm gonna do it. Pretty sure. I wrote in this column a few weeks ago about writing short stories to get out of the slump. That's fine, but I think I'm better at writing novels. Longer works, because even my short stories are rather long. The short story I submitted to an upcoming anthology came out to nearly 8,000 words. Is that long?

So I'm looking at starting a novel this Friday. I've done NaNoWriMO before back in 2015. I've done a "NaNoWriMo" in multiple other months. Averaging 1,667 words per day can seem daunting if you've never done it before, but when you get in a groove, the words fly. My plan is to average around 800 words per writing session: one at 4:45-6:00 am and another at lunch time. That's for weekdays. Weekends should likley be early morning sessions each day.

The biggest decision between now and Halloween night will be to decide which tale to tell. I've got three in the hopper: one modern mystery, one modern slice of life story, and one...thriller. I think. I've come up with the idea for the story--based on a song, no less!--but I'm trying to figure out its style. Good thing about not planning ahead: the style will reveal itself during the writing process.

Looking forward to having some fun.

Truth Told


Do Some Damage was founded in part to discuss the writing process. All of the writers who have posted all have our own takes on the subject of writing and creativity. It's one thing to hear how we writers who are not as famous as other folks say what we have to say, but its something quite different when a person as famous as Christopher McQuarrie weighs in.

In a 24-part Twitter thread, McQuarrie speaks truth upon truth upon truth. Most of it is difficult to read, especially if you are betting on the 'lottery' [his term]. I zeroed in on Tweet #8 because it echoed what I've always called "Control the Controllables":

8. The secret to success is doing what you love, whether or not you’re being paid. The secret to a rewarding career in film (and many other fields) is focusing entirely on execution and not on result.

Read the whole thing. Print it and tape it to your writing desk.

The Great Kevin Smith Watch


In case you missed some of my other posts, I made a decision this summer: watch all twelve of Kevin Smith's films leading up to the thirteenth coming out this week here in Houston. This past Wednesday, I posted my twelfth review for Yoga Hosers. This coming Wednesday, I'll be seeing the new film, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, at a special event here in H-Town. Smith and his friend Jason Mewes are traveling with the new movie in which they show the film to the audience and then do a question and answer session.

I'll be posting my review of the new film on 6 November, but as a placeholder, this week I'll be posting my ranking of Smith's films. I instantly knew my top three, the fourth one, and the one in dead last. What I didn't know was what film would get the top spot. I sat with a piece of paper and started putting the movies in my own order. When I finally realized which film I liked best, I looked forward to publishing the list. It's unconventional, but easy to understand if you know me and what I like.

Any ideas?

TV Show of the Week: Evil


Two Thursdays ago, my wife suggested we watch episode four of the new TV show Evil on CBS. I had seen the previews all summer long while watching Elementary. Initially it looked like something not in my wheelhouse, but I gave episode four a try.

Intrigued. Very intrigued.

Then I watched episode one. Hooked. All in.

I've now seen episodes five and two. Just have to see three and I'll be caught up.

Anyone else watching this show?

That covers it for the week. As I write this, the Houston Astros are up 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Hopefully when you read this tomorrow, the team from H-Town will have a World Series win in 2019.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I Finally Watched Yoga Hosers

Introduction
Clerks
Mallrats
Chasing Amy
Dogma
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Cop Out
Red State
Tusk

Sometimes you watch a movie for the plot despite the actors. Sometimes you watch a movie for the actors notwithstanding the plot. Then there are those films in which both sides come together and you get something magnificent.

Anyone can come up with a short list of movies that fall in these three categories. Of the dozen films Kevin Smith has made to date, you can put them all into these categories. Where would you put Yoga Hosers, the 2016 movie starring Harley Quinn Smith (Smith's daughter) and Lily-Rose Depp (Johnny Depp's daughter)?

The Premise


Lily-Rose (Colleen) and Harley (also Colleen) reprise their roles from 2014's Tusk as clerks in the Canadian convenience store called Eh-2-Zed. They're sophomores in high school who spend their lives on their phones, in the company of Yogi Bayer practicing yoga, and doing the same things Dante and Randal did in the 1994 movie, Clerks: passing through life with a jaded eye towards everything other than their phones, yoga, singing in a rock band, and each other.

Imagine their great delight when a pair of seniors invites them to a party. Imagine their chagrin when Lily-Rose's dad (owner of the store) suddenly leaves town with his younger wife (store manager), leaving the Colleens with only one choice: work at the store but invite the boys to bring the party to the store.

Except the boys want to kill them for...reasons. Actually, they're Satanists. But the evil lads are killed by...wait for it...sentient Nazi bratwursts, nicknamed Bratzis.

I shit you not.

The Acting


Setting plot aside, the two leads have great chemistry together. I think I remember Smith on a podcast talking about the two girls are actual friends in real life. They play and riff off each other so well that even if it isn't true, it should be. Maybe it is now that they've done two movies together.

I really enjoyed seeing the updated version of clerks circa 2016 vs. 1994. Way less pop culture, but way more indifference. Where Randal (in Clerks) all but hated lots of humanity for the things we do, the Colleens just don't care. They'd much rather do their own thing in their own bubble. Consciously or not, Smith created two pairs of characters, nearly a quarter century apart, that encapsulate a certain sector of culture. It's both weird and troubling. We as a society went from active dislike to apathy. Damn.

Be that as it may, I thoroughly enjoyed watching both Harley and Lily-Rose on screen. I know there is a third movie coming--Moose Jaws--and I'll be watching that purely to see these two actresses perform together. A highlight of the movie.

Johnny Depp's in this movie, too. He reprises his role as Guy LaPointe from Tusk. He is the only one who believes the story the Colleens' spin about evil Bratzis. Given how much fun Depp had in Tusk, he seems to have more fun here. It must have been fun for him to hide behind the prosthetics and makeup and just make a silly movie without the world watching.

Stan Lee makes a cameo! And Kevin Conroy, with a young lad named Robin! But there is one actor I've been looking forward to seeing most of all.

Mr. Ralph Freaking Garman


Finally, Kevin Smith writes some dialogue for his good friend and Babble Brother.

In real time (as in when these movies were being made and discussed), Ralph and Kevin would talk about Ralph being in the various movies. Imagine my surprise when I finally watched them this year that Ralph's roles in Red State (no dialogue) and Tusk (little dialogue) were so small. No so with Yoga Hosers.

He's the main villain, Andronicus Arcane, a Nazi who put himself in cryogenic freeze only to be accidentally defrosted in 2016. In many glorious minutes, Ralph gets to do some of his best impressions. Arcane, a German, reveals his plan to the captured Colleens and LaPointe. In a bid to help them be more at ease (as if being handcuffed to a chair in a subterranean Canadian bunker wasn't bad enough), Arcane/Ralph does Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now, I've never seen a live Hollywood Babble On or The Ralph Report (my review) live so I've never seen Ralph do these impressions. Now I have. So good. Visually, Ralph somehow makes his face look like these actors, especially Stallone. One of the best things about the entire movie, and the only part I've watched more than once.

The Verdict


I enjoyed watching Yoga Hosers even if I rolled my eyes at some of the moments, even if I checked my phone a la the Colleens, even if I caught up on Words With Friends during some parts. It was ...just okay. I can't imagine I'll be re-watching Yoga Hosers again.

As an independent writer, I am all for creating whatever type of art you like and then see if there are folks who like and enjoy it. Thus, I have no issue with this film being made. If that's what Smith wants to do and he can get all the folks involved to make it, so be it. Good on him.

But it comes across as not worthy of his talents.

I'll be honest: while I don't count Clerks among my favorite of Smith's films, that movie is better than Yoga Hosers. Clerks had a style, a vibe, something to say. Yoga Hosers, while being fun to watch, is kind of like a student film when the director gathers a bunch of friends and just puts something together. Dogma--which I don't love--is chock full of great Smith quotes and dialogue. Ditto for Tusk despite the premise, Heck, even Red State--which I actively dislike and will likely forever hold the mark as my least favorite Kevin Smith film--is a better-made movie than this.

Which brings me back to the question I posed at the top of this review. Yoga Hosers is definitely a movie you watch for the actors and performances and not for the plot. There's not much there. Heck, there's more in Tusk than here. This will likely be the "early film" in the dual careers of Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith.

And that's it for the Great Kevin Smith Movie Catch-Up for 2019. Next up for me is Jay and Silent Bob Reboot here in Houston on 30 October. Expect a review on 6 November.

In lieu of a review next Wednesday, I'll post my Top 12 list of all of Smith's films. We all know the last one, but what film will occupy the top spot. As of this writing, even I don't know (even though I have my Top 3 set).

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 42

In book-related news, I witnessed something wonderful this week, and I have my wife to thank.

On Monday night, here in Houston, we traveled to Blue Willow Bookshop to attend an author event with Elin Hilderbrand (my review). The author event was not a new experience. Frankly, it was pretty much like most every author event I have attended before. No, what struck me was the clientele.

The audience was almost exclusively women.

Granted, the kinds of books Hildebrand writes generally appeal to women. But in most of the author events I've gone to tend to focus on books I like. Me. A dude. And most of those events have been sparsely attended.

Not so the folks at Blue Willow on Monday. It was packed.

We arrived about thirty minutes before show time and we managed to snag the last two side-by-side seats. By the time seven o'clock rolled around, the strangling guests were in standing room only. I literally think I could count the number of guys in the room on one hand. Yup. Exactly five that I can remember. The rest of the, say, fifty fans were ladies of all ages.

Ladies who read. Passionately. And follow everything Hilderbrand writes. In fact, she commented she had finished next summer's novel that very day. She dangled a tidbit about the book and the audience reacted with a combination of happiness and anticipation at having to wait until the summer of 2020.

All of this isn't news. More women read books than men. I knew that ahead of time. But I hadn't actually witnessed it. Now I have. I even commented on it to my wife and the fellow reader, Elizabeth, we met.

The following day, in a text, my wife asked when I planned on having an author event at Blue Willow. "When I have written a book I think Valerie's [owner] customers will like."

There's the key, right? Somehow align what readers want to read with books I want to write. Writing to market is as old as writing. Nothing new there, either. Which makes me think of all the stories on my immediate To Be Written pile and ponder which one of those might most appeal to women.

I think I'll write that one first, and then, on a day sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have my book signing at Blue Willow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Finally Watched Tusk

Introduction
Clerks
Mallrats
Chasing Amy
Dogma
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Cop Out
Red State

I'll freely admit I'm of two minds about this 2014 movie by Kevin Smith. One the one hand, it's a grotesque film with a truly horrendous outcome that leaves little in the way of hope. On the other, it's truly a Kevin Smith film.

A Return to the Smith of Old


I don't know much of the backstory of what happened to Smith the film director after completing Red State. In his book, Tough Shit, Smith comments that he didn't want to make Kevin Smith films anymore. Understandable considering the genre he helped to define--man children dealing with life--was, as of 2011, a full-blown sub-genre. A shame because he's so good at it.

Which makes the opening of Tusk a much appreciated to the sensibility of what put Smith on the map. It's indie, it's two actors--Justin Long  and Haley Joel Osment--talking and riffing and verbalizing Kevin Smith dialogue. After four movies of non-Smith-like characters reciting his words, it was a breath of fresh air.

That quickly turns sour.

Despite all the hallmarks of a Smith film--clever dialogue, characters who are podcasters, his daughter and Johnny Depp's daughter as a pair of clerks, a jingle from the Hollywood Babble On podcast, Ralph Garman actually speaking--Tusk gets seriously weird.

The Premise


Podcaster Wallace Bryton (Long) flies to Canada to interview "The Kill Bill Kid," a kid who posted a YouTube video of himself swinging a Japanese sword but inadvertently slices off his leg. Wallace intends to interview the kid, but discovers the young man killed himself to escape the constant bullying. Stuck without a story, Wallace sees a flyer on a barroom bathroom wall. He's intrigued as the author just wants to share his life's story.

Wallace heads out to Howard Howe's house...at night...because of course. He meets Howe, a wheelchair-bound older man played spectacularly by Michael Parks. Howe drugs Wallace and when the young man wakes up, he discovers his left leg has been amputated.

If only that were the worst thing to befall him. No, it gets worse. Far, far worse, especially when Howe reveals he's not at all confined  to the wheelchair.

The Power of Stories


Parks could read the phone book and I'd buy a copy and listen. His voice and nuance in seducing Wallace via stories is wonderful. Heck, I even noted Smith's own writing style to be quite good in these scenes, especially the swimming story that gets a younger Howe to the deserted island with a walrus. There's one line that specifically sticks with me:

"it's [the bottle Wallace is marveling at] just a bottle, but if you combine it with a story, it becomes a powerful talisman, a doorway to another time and place, and, perhaps, a drawbridge to history."

One can't help but be impressed by lines such as these that came from the mind that brought all those dick jokes early in Smith's career.

The Acting


Parks is wonderful, but so is Long. I mean, come on. He has to sell  the horror of the situation in which he finds himself. There's that moment you wait for from the moment you learn the premise--the reveal of Wallace in the walrus suit, made of human skin--that is friggin' shocking. Sure, your mind tells you that it's just a prop while another part of your mind starts to marvel at how well the grotesque thing looks, but it's Long's non-verbal bellows of revulsion that slice through you. At first, I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be his own skin, but I finally figured out Howe had prior victims. Shudder.

It's flat-out disturbing, even during this month of Halloween to see this. Howe is so utterly insane that he's gone all the way around to calmness. Heck, he's even calm when he shows up in a walrus suit of his own! Didn't see that coming. That Wallace-as-walrus kills Howe-as-walrus probably should have been something I predicted, but I didn't. I kept thinking that Wallace was merely drugged and that he wasn't permanently altered. I was wrong.

Excellent prop and costume, however.

The Film's Style


The Kevin Smith-ness of this film is over every frame. Unlike his last three, you can instantly pick up on the director's vision and style. It's what made the film watchable for me despite the story. Let's put it this way: had it not been a Smith film, there's no way I'd have seen this film.

But I fully appreciated how Smith structured his movie in the Quentin Tarantino style of non-linear storytelling. After Wallace is kidnapped, the scenes jump back to him and his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), just talking about relationships and life and love. Little nuggets of backstory is revealed in these flashbacks, none quite as important as the last one. In that last flashback, Ally comments that crying is what separates humans from animals. Naturally, in the last scene, you see Wallace, still in his walrus suit, still nonverbal, crying. Why? Because he's forced to live this existence because Johnny Depp's character couldn't pull the trigger of his rifle and put Wallace out of his misery.

The Famous Guest Stars


In his podcasts of the time, I remember Smith talking about getting Depp on board. His daughter, Lily-Rose, was already cast alongside Smith's daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, as the girl clerks in the convenience store. Depp plays a private investigator (?) who knows about Howe and helps lead Ally and Wallace's podcast partner, Teddy (Osment) to Howe's house.

Depp is, well, Depp: entirely wrapped up in the character despite the movie surrounding him. He was pretty fun to watch, to be honest. There was one flashback in which Depp acted opposite Parks, and that was a fine scene.

The two young ladies didn't get a lot of screen time in this film, but they made the most of it. And I know the penultimate Smith movie to date, Yoga Hosiers, is next for me.

The Verdict


In my notes, the last thing I wrote was "Well, that was interesting, but at least it felt like a Kevin Smith film."  You have to hand it to Smith for doing this. Granted, had I voted back in 2013 for either #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo, I would have voted no. Did this movie really need to be made? Not really. What started as a discussion on a podcast emerged as the movie Tusk. What I appreciate is the indie spirit behind it all. "Why not?" is a mantra in which I believe, so in Smith's mind, why not make a movie about a man who transforms another man into a walrus. The execution of the entire project is spot on and can serve as an example to what indie film making (or any indie creative endeavor) can achieve.

But is Tusk a good film? Thankfully, we have Red State to occupy My Least Favorite Kevin Smith Film spot. I can't imagine it'll ever be displaced. But do I like Tusk over Dogma? Probably not. There are portions of Tusk I enjoy, but the grotesque element is...well, it isn't too much, it's just something I care not to see. It's a shrug. I'll watch Dogma over this any day, but I likely won't be watching either ever again.

Still, Tusk has some genuinely good moments. Parks is great, the daughters Smith and Depp are fun, and it was great seeing Osment again. The structure of the film is well done, and the dialogue and writing is really good. Smith knows his way around writing. I can't help but wonder if he'll ever write a novel. I'd certainly read it.

And with Kevin Smith "back," I'm looking forward to Yoga Hosiers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Elin Hilderbrand in Houston

When I noted Elin Hilderbrand, one of my wife's favorite authors, was going to have an event at Houston's Blue Willow Bookshop celebrating the publication of WHAT HAPPENS IN PARADISE, I faced a choice: tell her ahead of time or just surprise her with a secret trip.

Blue Willow Bookshop is an independent bookstore in west Houston that is like the TV show Cheers: when you walk through the doors, you are among friends. We were told to arrive early because Hilderbrand can fill a room. My wife, a jewelry artist (betojdesigns.com), got the biggest and happiest surprise when owner Valerie greeted us...while wearing a pair of my wife's handmade earrings. A great night already made better.

The good folks at Blue Willow weren't kidding about the expected crowd. The small neighborhood bookstore filled rapidly. We arrived almost thirty minutes ahead of time and we snagged one of the last pair of seats side by side. We struck up a wonderful conversation with a woman named Elizabeth. We talked about Hilderbrand's books and other favorite authors, but as 7:00 pm rolled around, it was show time.


Hilderbrand spoke about why she focuses on what she calls beach books. If you've seen the covers of her books, you'll know what I'm talking about and will almost instantly recognize them as hers. She told a story about her childhood in a blended family, spending summers up on the beaches in the northeast. Sadly, her father's death stopped those wonderful times. She had a realization one day that she couldn't get her father back, but she could recapture those summers. Thus, her beach books.

The Q and A portion was also equally as good, with other folks asking the very questions I'd have asked, which for a writer, is a process question. Hilderbrand writes her books chronologically, shifting viewpoints as she goes. On a question regarding writer's block, I was pleasantly surprised to know she does the same thing as me: re-read the manuscript from the beginning until you've reached your stopping point. Generally, what has blocked you will work itself out.

Speaking of process, she completed her summer 2020 book yesterday in a hotel room, proof that professional fiction writers always are working.

I was also impressed Hilderbrand answered the perennial question: what is your favorite book. I have my own answer. So did she: BLUE BISTRO. Judging by the audible sounds of affirmation among the gathered crowd, it sounded like she wasn't alone.

Guess which book of Hilderbrand's I'll be reading first.

The line to get the new book signed was handled well, and my wife got to meet one of her favorite authors. All in all, it was a wonderful night. Thanks to all the folks at Blue Willow, Hilderbrand for her tour, and readers in general for always turning out for a live author event.

Oh, and if you're wondering if I told my wife ahead of time about the event, well she doesn't have a Facebook account and I don't think she's on Blue Willow's email list (I am), but I couldn't tell for sure. I ended up telling her about it and ordering the new book for her. It was the better decision because the anticipation built up in the days and hours leading to the event.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 41 - Writer Up

For those of us in Houston, we are still in baseball season. Our Houston Astros are in the American League Championship Series with the New York Yankees. A trip to the World Series is on the line. Being a Houston sports fan, I am conditioned to expect the worst and be happily surprised when we win. Even two years ago, when the Astros won our first World Series title, it went seven games. Ditto for the Houston Rockets in 1994 because nothing is easy for Houston sports teams.

Now, our Astros got into a bit of a hitting slump during games 3 and 4 of the divisional series against the Tampa Bay Rays. But what does any hitter know in his head and try to do when he's in a slump? Just make contact. Good contact, and put the ball in play. Hopefully he'll get a single, maybe a double, but just make contact. Get on base, and then see what happens next.

[Here comes the transition from baseball to writing that you knew was coming.]

I've been in a writing slump for a few weeks. Tried a bit, didn't like what the fingers spit out, and grew frustrated. How the heck am I supposed to write the next novel when everything I write reads like crap?

One simple answer is: Write the next sentence. It is literally that simple. Just write the next sentence of a paragraph. Then the next one and the next one. Just keep going.

Easy to say. Really hard to follow. I know. You know. We all know because we've all been there.

But if "write the next sentence" is the writer equivalent of "make contact with the ball," then what's the equivalent of a single in baseball?

A short story.

In an effort to get outta the slump, on Monday, I started a short story. I gave myself few guidelines other than...have fun with it. Just write a story and finish a story by this coming Sunday. That's a week. Even with a day job, I often carve out an hour before I get ready for the day and another at lunch. With two hours per day plus some on the weekends, surely I can finish a short story in a week's time.

Well, as of today, I'm about 95% done. Had a little issue mid week that knifed into the writing time (both mental and physical) but I got back on track.

With no care as to the idea of selling it in the future (but I will), I just wrote with a funny grin on my face most times. It was a blast and it reminded me of two things. One, I'm pretty good at this. Two, I love telling stories.

Guess what happens this coming Monday? I start the next one. I plan on writing a few short stories in a row--one per week--to get my mojo back. Once I've hit a few singles, I'll be aiming for a double, a triple, and a home run in the form of my next novel.

Batter up! Er, actually...

Writer up!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

I Finally Watched Red State

Introduction
Clerks
Mallrats
Chasing Amy
Dogma
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Cop Out


Congratulations, Dogma! You are no longer my least favorite Kevin Smith film. A new champion has arrived.

As is my policy, I don't watch the trailers for this Kevin Smith watch-a-thon before I view the film. I just let the movie speak.

What the hell did this movie say? It was garbled. Look, movies don't always have to say something or mean something. They can be mere diversions. But with Red State, I couldn't make out anything.

What is this movie trying to be? A horror story? An action story? A thriller? An indictment of the botched Waco stand-off from 1993? Something else? Did not 'get it.'

The Premise


Three horny teenagers (alright, we're starting off on a Smith trope) find a lady online who promises to have sex with them. All they have to do is drive out to a lonely country road to the trailer home where she lives. Well, what could possibly go wrong?

Plenty.

The boys are kidnapped by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a preacher who leads a small congregation very much like the combination of Waco's Branch Davidians and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Now, as much as I dislike this film, Michael Parks is brilliant. His performance as Cooper is the bright spot in this otherwise dark film. When we first see him, he delivers a sermon/monologue lasting a good chunk of screen time. His cadence and voice are mesmerizing, and you could only watch this scene and you'd think this movie was good.

Well, there's more movie.

In that scene, we get our first glimpse of Ralph Garman in a Smith movie. I am a member of the Garmy and listen to The Ralph Report every weekday. I know he's a talented voice actor and I couldn't wait to hear what kind of voice Garman was going to bring to this picture.

Like Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, Garman spoke not a word before he was killed.

Really? Nothing? Not even some sort of guttural mumbling as he chased one of the escaping teenagers.

Shooting. Lots and Lots of Shooting


Man, I have already spent more time talking about this film than I expected. Stuff happens and people shoot at each other. Lots of death. Nothing wrong with shooting. I've loved lots of films with it. But a Kevin Smith film?

Halfway (earlier, actually) I forgot I was watching a Kevin Smith film, so different was Red State than everything that came before. As a creative writer, I go in any direction my imagination goes.

Again, like I wrote with Dogma, I'm perfectly fine with Smith trying something new and different.

But it doesn't mean I have to like it.

The Verdict.


I don't like Red State. For me, Dogma is a benign ignorance. The movie has some good moments, contained some trademark Smithisms, starred Alan Rickman, but mostly it's a one-and-done viewing and I give it rarely a passing thought. With Red State, I actively dislike it. Heck, I didn't even bother going to the DVD and watching the behind-the-scenes material. I ejected the DVD, put it back in its case, and put it on top of the To-Sell stack for a future Half Price Books run.

Now, as to Parks himself, I know he is in the next film on the list, Tusk. So, whatever interesting things that film has to offer, it at least has Michael Parks, easily the best thing about Red State.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 40

You know you've reached a certain age when some of your favorite network TV shows air on CBS.

Granted, one of them, the Patricia Heaton-led Carol's Second Act, is aimed squarely at middle-aged folks like me. (Wow. I'm not sure I've ever written a sentence like that before.) There's a moment in the pilot episode where Carol thinks she's about to be reamed out by the head doctor for disobeying orders. "I'm good because I'm old. My age is what is going to make me a great doctor."

Right on, I said to myself. As a middle-aged man, I know so much more about life and other things than I did at twenty-five. But when it comes to writing and selling books, I'm still a baby. I started my company in 2015, and it will turn five next year, so I'm constantly learning about the business of selling stories even when I'm mired in a non-creative funk.

I started thinking about the stories I've written to date and tried to imagine the type of reader who'd like them. It got me thinking about the demographics of targeted ads. At my day job as a lead product marketing specialist, buyer personas are one of the factors we consider when developing collateral. Who would buy our products?

Some writers ask that question when they write stories. Nothing wrong with writing to market. I don't do that too often, so I face the question of to whom do I sell these completed stories.

Since I've only been writing professionally for about five years, that means I was around forty-five when I started. Thus, my sensibility is that of a middle-aged person. It doesn't mean folks outside this demographic won't enjoy my tales, but the writer was a middle-aged dude.

Who might want to read the stories I write? How might I spread the word about my yarns? I have a plan to find out via targeted demographic advertising. It'll be trail and error, but I'm willing to try things, analyze results, and make additional decisions based on data.

So, have y'all tried demographic ads?

Friday, October 4, 2019

David Bowie - Hours at 20

Fun fact I was reminded about just this week: David Bowie was fifty-two when he released his 21st studio album, ...hours, twenty years ago today. I'm just a year shy of that mark, which means yet another shade was added to my enjoyment of this album.

The Music of 1999


The last year of the Twentieth Century was a particularly great one for me in regards to music. Some of my favorite veteran acts released new music: Sting's Brand New Day is only a week older than Hours. Tom Jones presented Reload to the world. Santana's Supernatural was everywhere as was Moby's Play. I discovered new-to-me artists like Bruce Cockburn. Chicago released a live album with some new songs. And I was still spinning 1998's Psycho Circus by KISS and Painted by Memory by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach.

But the album that I looked forward to the most was the new one by David Bowie. I was (and still am) a huge fan of Bowie's music in the 1990s. After the experimentation of 1995's Outside and 1997's Earthling, it was exciting to ponder what kind of music we'd get on the new album. Little did we know we'd get an introspective album many critics compared to 1971's Hunky Dory.

The Album


Hours landed square in the middle of a life and cultural turning point for me. I was newly married and rediscovering my hometown of Houston after moving back home after graduate school. I was finally (!) out of school for the first time since I started in kindergarten. I had my first job. I was a grown up who finally (!) didn't have homework to do. I had time to soak in life and listen to music.

And I listened to Hours for...hours. Hey. It was right there. I have no conscious memory of where I bought the album, but I know it was twenty years ago today. I have always be a day-released purchaser of albums by favorite musicians. Back then, it was likely Best Buy, and it was likely on my lunch hour. However, I got the CD, I spun it as soon as I could, which was in my Ford F-150's player.

Again, I have no memory of how I felt or what I thought when those first notes of "Thursday's Child" washed over me, but it has remained a favorite song ever since. Not Top 25, but certainly Top 50. (That's an interesting exercise. I might have to compile my Top 50 favorite Bowie songs.)

Thursday's Child is the song a middle-aged man speaks about his life. It's a crooner's song, full of croonery music. Holly Palmer is fantastic as the lead background singer, but Bowie's third rendition of "Seeing my past to let it go" is heartbreakingly nuanced.

Something in the Air has a decent back beat over which Bowie can sing through a device that distorts his voice. This is a tune I've always enjoyed mainly for the fraying edges of Bowie's voice. He still had it at the time, but there are moments in this song where you realize he is a middle-aged man with a lifetime's worth of singing. It takes a toll after awhile and in this song, that age pays off well.

Survive is likely the song that echoes the vibe of Hunky Dory. It's an acoustic guitar-drive tune layered over with orchestral strings interspersed with tasteful electric guitars by Reeves Gabrels and saxphones. This song made it into the 1999 tour setlist. Again, a younger man probably doesn't write this song.

I'm Dreaming My Life is highlighted by the tempo changes, speeding and slowing the beat. While I like the tune, it is one that doesn't make it onto my MP3 CD compilations. The latter half of the song, with its plodding section punctuated by "ooohs" is...just okay.

Seven is yet another 1999 outtake of Hunky Dory. Even more than Survive, Seven's acoustic jangling guitar chugs along quite nicely. This one builds and builds, adding in different instruments along the way, until it reaches its wonderful ending. A highlight of the album.

What's Really Happening would have opened side 2 of the album if it was pressed in vinyl back in 1999. The guitar of Gabrels is more upfront here, and I get the impression its more his song than Bowie's.

The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell reminded folks in 1999 that Bowie remained a rock star quite capable of punching out a crunchy rock song. Think Hallo Spaceboy for another example. Always enjoyed this one, especially the tambourine during the chorus. The guitars are great, and really added to that Fin de si├Ęcle vibe that permeated most of 1999.

New Angels of Promise chugs out of the speakers using various of-the-era electronics before quickly morphing into a more straightforward pop tune. Lots of studio trickery on this one, mostly with Bowie backing himself, a practice I don't normally like, but don't mind too much here.

Brilliant Disguise is a short instrumental piece with a distictive Asian influence. In mood and vibe, it would have worked well on side two of "Heroes", but here just serves as a nice little piece.

The Dreamers rounds out the ten tracks of Hours. It showcases Bowie's crooner singing, but often it's distorted by oddball sound effects. But when the song hits the chorus, it is beautiful. And Bowie's sustained notes are gorgeous.

The Remixes


There were so many remixes of the various songs on this album that in 2004, there was a double CD boxed set with the second disc only containing the remixes. Some were marked improvements on the originals and my preferred versions: Thursday's Child (Rock Mix), Something in the Air (American Psycho Remix), and Seven (Marius De Vries Mix). There are something like four versions of The Pretty Things are Going to Hell, but I still prefer the original, just like the original version of Survive.

In the twenty years since the album's debut, certain songs float to the top, giving me continual listens. I ended up making my own version of Hours with those mixes I mentioned filling in for the actual album versions. But these five songs are my favorites from this album and among my favorites of the entire 1993-2004 era. I have an MP3 CD player in my car and I am able to cram up to 130 songs on each. Not only do I have a dedicated "Bowie 1993-2004" disc, but I have a "Bowie Retrospective" in which I select songs from his entire catalog, up to and including Blackstar. These five songs make the cut every time, although I use the version of Survive from the 2000 Bowie at the Beeb concert.

Hours Live


Ironically, just this year, at a record store here in Houston, I discovered a CD copy of the 1999 "Small Club Broadcast" show. Bowie only toured in Europe in 1999 so I never got to hear any of these tunes live. Which makes this discovery such a joy. All the Hours songs (Thursday's Child, Something in the Air, Survive, Seven, and The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell) sound great live, especially with Mike Garson playing piano. Huh. Isn't that something, those list of songs Bowie himself performed.

By the way, of all the live albums Bowie released officially, the 2000 concert is my favorite. He and the band sound so good, and some of the songs on this track list (Ashes to Ashes, Absolute Beginners, Survive, Always Crashing in the Same Car) are my preferred versions.

The Verdict


It's been a great twenty years with this album. I have so many memories in which these songs are intertwined. It was an awesome time for music in 1999 and while Hours my not be the best Bowie album from the 1990s, it holds a special place. It was the perfect album for those last three months of the Twentieth Century, especially when combined with Sting's Brand New Day and the other fantastic albums of 1999. It was of its time. It was by an artist whose age nearly matches mine now assessing his own career and music and doing something different. I also enjoy it along with Heathen and Reality, the last great trilogy of albums Bowie produced.

If you haven't spun Hours in a long time, give it a listen today to commemorate the album's anniversary.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I Finally Watched Cop Out

Introduction
Clerks
Mallrats
Chasing Amy
Dogma
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Riddle me this, Batman. Why did Kevin Smith direct a buddy cop show that he didn't write?

Answer: To work with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. I think.

The Next Step After Zack and Miri


I'd have to go back and do some more research to figure out why Smith chose to direct a film he didn't write in the immediate aftermath of his 2008 movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. As I wrote in my review of Zack and MIri, if Kevin Smith were to ever make a romantic comedy, it would have to be with porn. Well, despite the fact he didn't write Cop Out, you can certainly make the case that if Smith were to ever do a buddy cop picture, it would have largely been Cop Out.

Which is the reason, I assume, why he did it. Screenwriters Mark and Robb Cullen must be children of the 1980s because their story is rife with almost every cliche you saw in any given buddy cop film in that decade. It is all over the place, right down to the wonderful synth music from Harold Faltermeyer who delivers a spot-on homage to his Fletch soundtrack (the third note I made while watching the film). That doesn't surprise me at all considering Smith loved the original Fletch book and movie. Heck, the movie even starts with one of the stalwart scenes in movies: slow-motion walking.

A Couple of Detectives


 The entire opening scene is short-hand for how the two leads operate. Like [name your pair of characters] in [name your buddy cop movie], Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and Paul Hodges (Morgan) are rebel cops, out to bag the bad guys any way they can, be it by the book, off the book, or with the book. How bad ass are they? They take turns acting to get perps to give up vital information, trading movie dialogue (mostly Morgan). They are White Lightning and Black Thunder and they always get their man.

"It's like Lethal Weapon lite" is the note I made early on. Yet it's still entertaining. A buddy cop movie is always fun to watch. This one just has Bruce Willis doing....Bruce Willis. Look, I've enjoyed most of his work for a long time, and he always gets at least a look because of Moonlighting, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, and, if memory serves me right, my enjoyment of Hudson Hawk. Hey, I didn't hate it, but I also haven't seen it in years. He smirks his way through this film with his trademark smirk, often one step away from looking at the camera and voicing a "Can you believe this?" line to us, the audience.

Be that as it may, I still got why he does what he does in this film: he wants to pay for his daughter's wedding. Divorced, Willis's ex-wife is married to the rich, smarmy Roy (Jason Lee!) who offers to pay the $48,000 for the wedding. Willis is having none of that so he decides to sell a prized baseball card.

Side note: Was Jason Lee's casting Kevin Smith's idea? And was the character's name "Roy" before the film started shooting? Knowing the wink-and-a-nod vibe of the screenplay, I'm sure the writers already had the in-joke primed. Ditto for the direct Die Hard quote.

Tracy Morgan's Paul, in the meantime, thinks his wife (Rashida Jones) is sleeping around on him. Paul hides a nanny cam in his bedroom, hoping he catches his wife's infidelity or to prove his jealousy wrong.

Look, I'm not the greatest Tracy Morgan fan. I tolerated him on Saturday Night Live and I didn't watch 30 Rock. With SNL and here, he's a bit of a one note, the comedic foil to Willis's straight man. But there was some times when Morgan's character made me chuckle. The phone call in the police station just after the two detectives were suspended without pay. He is definitely over the top, and most of the time it was fine, but after a bit, I just wanted to move on.

Sean William Scott Channeling Joe Pesci


If Cop Out is Lethal Weapon lite, then the introduction of Sean William Scott's Dave means we're actually watching Lethal Weapon 2, and Dave is Joe Pesci's character, Leo Getz. Dave is the thief who actually robbed the memorabilia store the very moment Willis was in the store to sell the baseball card. Dave steals Jimmy's card and thus we have our movie. Dave has this hilarious way of mimicking other characters in real time, much to their irritation. It's a pretty funny thing and I wonder of the actor improvised the whole thing. I can't see any other way.

The Rest of the Movie


Like the Lethal Weapon movies (and other buddy cop films), the small case Jimmy and Paul investigate leads to something bigger. In this case, it's a Mexican drug lord looking to expand his territory into New York City. Naturally, this leads to shoot-outs with action beats and you pretty much know how it's going to go, up to and including the part where the drug lord has a hostage and Jimmy and Paul countdown to the point where they're going to shoot him. They do it on one, because you knew that.

In all the melee, Jimmy's card is destroyed so he can't afford the wedding. But, he has, at his disposal, all the old sports memorabilia the drug lord collected. You were thinking exactly the same thing I was thinking when we finally cut to the lavish wedding. Jimmy pawned some of the stolen loot.

Nope. Jason Lee's Roy did, a point Jimmy's ex thanked him for. But not before she makes a last request: allow Roy and Jimmy to both say "we do" when the priest asks who gives away the bride. In a theme underneath the entire film--that partners have each other's backs--Paul persuades Roy not to stand. The persuasion is a pistol in the back. Jimmy stands on his own and says "I do." Nice moment.

The  Verdict


Per the way I've been doing all these reviews, I don't do a ton of research or watch the trailers ahead of time so that I can take these films as they are. Probably one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed Jersey Girl so much and why the death of Jennifer Lopez's character came out of the blue. So I don't know why Smith took this directing gig. Perhaps it was to make more money, but the Wikipedia entry mentions he took a pay cut. It could be the opportunity to just play in the sandbox of a buddy cop film. We all grew up watching them. Who wouldn't want to play?

But it was likely the chance to work with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. This was John McClane of Die Hard, Butch from Pulp Fiction, and Malcolm Crowe from The Sixth Sense. This was David Addison from Moonlighting. Who wouldn't want to work with him?

Well, something went down, and it drove a wedge between Smith and Willis to this year. But there is a ray of light. Here in 2019, I've heard one of his podcasts in which he relates how Willis reached out of Smith to return a photo(s) of Smith's daughter Willis had. The way Smith told the story, it was a nice thawing of the ice.

No matter the behind-the-scenes stuff, the thing we should judge is the final product. Cop Out is a decent film, a definite throwback to a certain kind of movie made in a certain kind of way. A nod to the movies of the 1980s, without all the bombast of modern buddy pictures (I'm looking at you Hobbes and Shaw even though I thoroughly enjoyed the picture).

But here's the thing: I would have loved to see how a Kevin Smith written buddy cop film played out. As I watched the show, I couldn't help but wonder how much on-set improvisation went on, in dialogue, that Smith brought to the table. There are references to things heard in other Smith films, so I'm inclined to think improv occurred. I just would have wanted a more Smith-centered film.

He's a writer and director. It's like when he or any of the other celebrity directors who direct an episode of a TV show: there's such a template for what the show looks like that the guest director's influence is barely there. Ditto for this film. Visually, I can't tell any particular Smithisms at work. Dialogue-wise, yes, it sounds like a Smith film, but how much different might this have been if Smith wrote it himself?

Knowing that Red State is next (have no ideas about that at all) and Tusk and Yoga Hosiers are the final two before Jay and Silent Bob Reboot debuts here in Houston, I'm not sure Smith would ever return to the buddy cop genre. Just yesterday, he announced Clerks 3 was a go. Look, I enjoy his View Askew films and, so far, his non-Askew films have one highlight (Jersey Girl) and a pair of okay films (Zack and Miri and Cop Out). As a creator myself, I know what it's like to play in different genres. It's fun for a time, but then you want to move on to something else.

I know Smith is returning to that which launched his career and in which he likely feels the most comfortable. But why not try his own hand at another buddy cop film? Why not put his own distinctive stamp on this genre the way Tarentino did on westerns or Taika Watiti did for super-hero films.

Imagine what a full-on Kevin Smith buddy cop film would look like.