Monday, August 12, 2013

A Review By Ethan Dunlap

It's hard to put into words exactly what impact Kevin Smith's Clerks had on modern cinema. Often cited as one of the greatest independent movies ever made, it was a film that inspired countless anorexic cinephiles with far too many logo tees and a bad curtains haircut (namely, the one writing this article) to have the epiphany, "Holy shit...I could make a movie". Sure, Robert Rodriquez's El Mariachi did the same thing before this film, and with arguably greater effect (being made for only $7,000); but I saw Clerks first, so fuck you.

Smith, a distinguished member of the grand era known as Generation X, had no ties to filmmaking. He knew absolutely no one involved in the business. Hell, he didn't grow up anywhere near California; nay, he hails from the Cradle of Civilization known only as "New Jersey" (East Coast represent). But, in what turned out to a fortuitous epiphany, he said "Fuck it, I'll make a movie anyway". And he did.

Clerks was filmed in 21 straight days, on a microscopic budget of $27,575; funds which Smith raised by selling his comic book collection, maxing out ten credit cards, dipping into college funds, and probably some unsavory sexual deeds that Smith has joked about in his famous Q&A specials.
"You won't believe the shit I did to Mewes' ass."

It's kind of like if a Moldy Peaches album was transformed into a film (by black magic and heresy, I suspect); the definition of low-budget entertainment. The acting is high-school-drama-club level quality (except for Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran, but more on that later), the cast mostly comprises of Smith's friends and family members (his close friend Walt Flanagan plays 4 roles), and almost 100% of the movie is set in the convenience store. So, what makes Clerks work so well? What makes it the endearing, critically praised cult classic that it's been for the past 20 years?

A big factor is the screenplay. A big, delicious, throbbing factor. Kevin Smith has gone on record many times that he considers himself a writer first, and a director second. While he has fine directorial talent, I have to agree with him on this; Kevin Smith is a good director, but more importantly, he is an excellent writer. His dialogue has a charm and likeability to it that lends to a great viewing experience; it turns an average day-in-the-life comedy into an endlessly entertaining series of conversations, wherein the characters wax rhapsodic on topics ranging from the subtext of Return of the Jedi, how much a "jizz-mopper" makes, the worthlessness of high school guidance counselors, and the pros and cons of self-fellatio. This was one of the first times in an American comedy where the characters had conversations that felt real; shit, most of the dialogue in the movie sounds like conversations I've had with my friends over the years.

What also adds to the charm of the film is the two leads. Dante Hicks (played by Brian O'Halloran) and Randal Graves (portrayed with perfection by Jeff Anderson) are both insanely likeable characters, with two different and realistic personalities; they're two friends who compliment each other perfectly. Two halves of a whole; Dante being the frustrated 20-something experiencing an existential crisis, and Randal being the easy-going slacker with little to no ambition. Together, they form a clear picture of the slacker generation. A picture, at the time, that needed to be seen.

Is Clerks the most well-made movie of all time? Of course not, I could name 30 films off the top of my head that are more technically proficient. But what this movie has over countless others is pure heart; more heart than a Captain Planet Christmas special. This was Kevin Smith writing about what it felt like to be 20 years old, aimlessly searching for purpose in the desolate wastelands of early adulthood.
So kind of like The Road Warrior with less leather and more salsa sharks.
I enjoy a wide array of films. My top 10 favourite movies of all time include films of dystopian cyper-punk Los Angeles; of witty American backpackers attacked by a werewolf while touring through England's countryside; of distant Wars which may or may not include some Stars; and of a stoner named The Dude who just wanted his rug back, man. But my all time favourite movie is a simple story of two slacker friends who sit through their menial job by having some insightful, hilarious, and sometimes poignant conversations. My all time favourite movie is Clerks.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Steven Moffat: Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen

                                                    A Rant by Ethan Dunlap

     To preface what is sure to be a lengthy article that will probably accomplish nothing but solidifying me as an insufferable anglophile who gets way too riled up over a show involving a 900-year-old Englishman whose sole means of transportation is a Police Box, I will say this: I love Doctor Who. I truly, truly do. I spent many a Saturday morning in my youth watching re-runs of the 70s Tom Baker episodes (and the criminally underrated Peter Davison run of the 1980s) on PBS, and I've been watching the revived series since David Tennant first became the Doctor in 2006, with the consistency of a sociopath who has an oddly specific OCD ritual. I'll always have a special place in my heart for Who (right next to my shrine to Tom Atkins' mustache); it's not only an iconic series for British pop culture, it's also an iconic staple of science fiction history. The long-running series has managed, for 50 years, to consistently be an incredibly unique piece of fiction with an irresistibly charming protagonist played by an extremely versatile, talented plethora of British actors. Well, except maybe Collin Baker. I can only stand a blonde afro on a white man if it belongs to Art Garfunkel.

Nonetheless, any sci-fi fan can plainly see the show's importance to the genre; it is to the UK what Star Trek is to America. 

It's also been ruined single-handedly over the course of one year by an insufferable ass-hat named Steven Moffat.

Let me back up a bit; to truly understand this once bright star's almost hilariously steep downhill spiral, we have to go back to the beginning. No, not in the fucking TARDIS, separate your goddamn fact from fiction. I simply mean we must go back all the way to the very first seasons of the revived series.

The world was a different place back then. We were in the thick of a war in the Middle East which many saw as illegal; we had a President who seemed unable to pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly; and Emo rock...existed. And, in the thick of all this political turmoil, Doctor Who was at the height of its popularity, and deservedly so. Showrunner Russell Davies was belting out strong seasons with a diverse range of episodes (some better than others, but nevertheless, the output was impressive). David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor with an almost seamless level of charm and charisma, whisking viewers away on adventures through the fabrics of space and time every week, all while sporting a fantastic head of hair. John Barrowman played an extremely likeable and dignified bisexual character, which at that time was a real rarity. John Simm even managed to bring a delightfully over-the-top take on the show's main villain, The Master.
The savior of television in the mid-2000s

And, in the midst of this truly fresh and engaging program, a plump Scotsman named Steven Moffat was part of the writer's staff. At the time, he was a critical darling; and really, it's not that hard to see why. The episodes he wrote constantly had real emotion ("The Doctor Dances"), fresh character-driven plots that delved into the Doctor's psyche ("The Girl In The Fireplace"), a real sense of dread ("Silence In The Library" 2-Parter), and even some strong and insanely likeable female characters ("Blink", wherein Carey Mulligan saves the asses of everyone in the episode, including the Doctor's). The latter would prove to be a challenge for Moffat in his future descent into dickery.

Then, in 2009, the show went through a major revamp. David Tennant bid an extremely emotional farewell as the Tenth Doctor in the "End Of Time" Christmas special; most of the cast left with him (some migrated to the spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures); and Russel T. Davies stepped down as show runner, bequeathing the position to Stephen Moffat. At the time, the choice was obvious.

And, truthfully, Moffat did a damn good first. Season 5 remains, in my opinion, to be one of the strongest seasons the show ever had. Matt Smith overcame an enormous amount of fan-rage by delivering an excellent new performance as the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams quickly became the best companions the show has had since Sarah Jane, and the writing...holy fuck, the writing. The writing, on a consistency level, reached a peak for the show; each episode had an enormous level of quality to it, making it one of the most re-watchable seasons in the show's history. And, to top it all off, we were given the best goddamn Christmas Special in the revived series' history. Moffat set a high standard in his first year as showrunner...and, quickly developing Richard Kelly Syndrome, it was a standard he failed to meet again.

Season 6 wasn't bad. On the contrary, Season 6 was pretty damn good. The cast grew more comfortable together, the characters played off each other in a more enjoyable fashion, and some damn fine episodes were put out (Neil Gaiman's "The Doctor's Wife" is like cocaine if cocaine was completely awesome and had no negative repercussions). just wasn't quite the same. Season 6 was kind of like Return of the Jedi to Season 5's The Empire Strikes Back; it's pretty damn good on its own, but falls a little flat when you compare it to its superior predecessor.
Though I wouldn't complain if some Ewoks broke into the TARDIS

The major problem with Season 6 was the ending. The season finale was a fine episode on its own, and had some damn fine emotional moments (the scene when Matt Smith finds out that former companion Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has bitten the dust is sadder than when that bastard mutt died in that sappy Owen Wilson movie). However, that's just it; it felt like just another good episode, not a ball-busting season finale. Especially when compared to Season 5's finale, the excellent "Pandorica Opens" 2-parter, this one really fell flat. Not 20-year-old Crystal Pepsi flat, but flat nonetheless.

However, despite that lackluster season finale, Moffat had popularity akin to a Scottish, rotund James Cameron (post-Titanic). It helped that the excellent Season One of Sherlock was complete around this time, further cementing Moffat's acclaim. Then, the break happened. And something just sort of...snapped. Moffat went full George Lucas.

By "the break", of course, I mean the ridiculous year-long break between Season 6 and Season 7 of Doctor Who. For bizarre reasons, the show was on an obnoxiously lengthy hiatus that was interrupted only by an extremely mediocre Christmas Special that not even the great Bill Bailey could save. Finally, in the last months of 2012, Season 7 premiered and That's honestly the best word I can use to describe the first half of the season. Eh. It was just simply, obnoxiously, inexplicably...okay. There were a few decent episodes in the bunch; the one with dinosaurs and Mr. Filch was fun, and "The Angles Take Manhattan" was damn good...except for some fucking ridiculous moments.
The moment every Who fan said, in unison, "...Is Moffat high??"

During this decidedly mediocre first half, it was becoming evident that Moffat was beginning to lose his touch. The characters didn't have the same wonderful chemistry they used to have as a group, there was some truly ridiculous Flanderization of the Doctor, and the storylines were becoming more forgettable than a Lifetime movie with Leann Rimes.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/rimes2f-1-web.jpg
Leann who?
Then Amy and Rory shared their demise (if anyone makes a River Song "Spoilers" joke I'll defecate on your lawn), and the show went on yet ANOTHER hiatus. Interrupted this time by a surprisingly pretty good Christmas Special. And then the rest of the season hit, and was a jumbled crock of shit with the most legendary of disappointments. Seriously. The second half Season 7 is bad. Really, truly fucking bad. And now we delve into the warped, misogynistic twat that is single-handedly ruining Doctor Who that Moffat has become.

As the season delved further and further into the wretched abyss of ineptitude, it suddenly came to light that Steven Moffat is an enormous douche bag. Between making statements about how he believes the Doctor could never be a female (even though he originally was looking at Catherine Zeta-Jones as the 11th Doctor and actually wrote the very first depiction of a female Doctor), talking shit about earlier aspects of the Russel T. Davies era, and overall just being a sexist prick, most level-headed Who fans took a long breath and said in unison "Man...Steven Moffat is kind of an ass hat".

This breaks my heart, since I truly do love his early work on the show. The episodes he wrote under Davies were all wonderfully poignant, and he really did an excellent job on Season 5 and even the underrated Season 6. But now it's gotten pretty clear that his egocentric over-indulgence is ruining one of the longest-running staples of popular science fiction, and I can only hope that he steps down and we get some new blood soon.

Matt Smith, a terrific actor in every sense of the word, is leaving the series. They announced recently that Peter Capaldi, an absolutely brilliant Scottish character actor who played Malcolm Tucker in the fucking hysterical political satire The Thick Of It, will be portraying the 12th Doctor. This excellent, excellent casting choice gives me hope that there is room for improvement for the show. That maybe, just maybe, it will reach the same level of quality it had during the height of Tennant's excellent run. But I fear that, unless there's some severe restrictions put on Moffat, the show won't thrive like it used to with a bloated, over-indulgent show runner who peaked far too early at its helm.

We have a terrific actor for the new Doctor. I think it's about time we get a terrific new showrunner, too.