View Askew.

It seems that the movies of Kevin Smith have been on my mind since my return from Pensacon, and my brief meeting with Joey Lauren Adams. I always had a soft spot for the clever dialogue, pop culture references, and the poignant soft spots that defined the series of movies. that defined the “View Askewniverse”, so I thought I would ride some nostalgia and take a moment to revisit those early films.

I was in my late teens, early 20′s when I discovered the indie world of filmmakers such as Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise), and Kevin Smith (Clerks). While I wasn’t the Texan that spent a day touring Europe with a beautiful French girl, I absolutely was a video store jockey working with one of my best friends, renting Sega CD games, Cinemax level softcore “passion” films and anime, while mocking our unibrowed boss. Clerks really was life for us, grousing as to why any returned Cheech & Chong films always smelled like a mixture of feces and weed, the endless rush of customers freaking out because we never had enough Jurassic Park in stock, the time we kidnapped the store’s video camera to make low-budget Batman films and ran those instead of the in-store PSAs. There was also the time that some customer left an actual turd in the return movie drop box. When Clerks came out, it was like someone had “gotten” my day to day struggles with the retail masses, and I was every bit a “Dante”.

Mallrats was the next film, and while filled with memorable lines, wasn’t as strong as Smith’s first film. Again, it touched on familiar subjects near and dear, such as shopping malls and comic books, but it was here that Smith’s predilection for Looney Tunes-esque slapstick humor began to manifest. From Stan Lee to teaching the rather horrid way of smiting one’s enemies via the “Stink Palm”, Mallrats had its own charm, though the pacing was a little uneven, switching from “real world” to cartoony and back again. I never really thought about it then, but it was more noticeable now on how it was two distinct types of comedies.

Chasing Amy remains Smith’s best work for a number of reasons: The heartfelt dialogue, the perils of jealousy, the depths of loyalty, the wonderful feeling of being in love and baring your soul to another person mixed with the crushing grief when it doesn’t work or stupid things like insecurity and hang ups get in the way of making something work. At its heart, I also think it’s a bit of a fairy tale for men: The story of “turning” an absurdly cute lesbian into a heterosexual relationship. And yet, to say that the message it just that would be doing the story a disservice. It’s also about getting out of your comfort zone to not only find and accept love, even when it is unconventional. “Love conquers all” in some cases, and I think here, that was the lesson that failed to be realized, only to be taught later in retrospect. It’s a very personal piece, and it shows. It also awakened one of my first real deep crushes on an actress, but I’ve covered that a fair bit already.

Dogma is an interesting piece. I am predisposed to having a soft spot for it as two of my long-time friends are running background in one of the opening scenes, but it’s an earnest exploration in understanding religious faith, and isn’t afraid to ask questions. One of the more meaningful exchanges in the film that personally resonated with me was discussed thusly:

Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name – wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?
Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier….

Another one of Smith’s “thoughtful” pieces, it still can’t fully escape from juvenile slapstick (such as a giant shit monster), but it is otherwise earnest and philosophical in its execution.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. This is where I believe that the “View Askewniverse” is truly its own reality well outside of our own. You can have love, and catharsis, and meaningful chatter about anything from life goals to Death Star contractors, to in this case, a literal live action cartoon. Jay and Silent Bob can work reasonably well enough as protagonists (see Dogma), but this film is ultimately Smith’s intended send-off to his world, and makes sure to cram in almost every single reference that he can to his previous works (yet, light on Dogma content). The film set out wanting to cheer everybody, offend everybody, and make a cinematic party for themselves. There are still absolutely funny moments, and it released a mere 2 1/2 weeks before 9/11, so you could easily make terrorist jokes and no one really cared, because really, what was there to be scared of?

Smith literally closed the book on these characters, and yet after Jersey Girl was a critical and commercial flop, he ran back to the beginning where he started his work.

Clerks II hit a resonant chord with me when it debuted: I was just into my early 30′s, getting into a then serious (and still going) relationship, and had just gotten out of a job that I had been doing a decade before, and into doing my own thing. Sarcasm, life observations, self analysis with a mild case of mockery still seem to be my forte, and I could and can relate to life changing and growing up. Again, for all the movie’s “life observations”, it still breaks character with an out of universe dance-off, and a “donkey scene that, while it leaves the perpetual horrors of that scene largely to the imagination, could have sufficed purely on the facial reactions of the protagonists. The last 10-15 minutes of the film are poignant and sentimental, and a reminder of the comforts of “home” with the fact that the more some things change, the more they stay the same. Even when you finally have to grow up.

With the universe again “closed” (well, at least until Mallrats 2 and Clerks III), it really became apparent how much of a “time capsule” these films are Video stores, once a weekend pilgrimage, are all but forgotten outside of Netflix and Redbox. The mall was once the primary source of all things commerce. People could greet and see off their friends and loved ones at the airport. Hell, you could walk up to the gate just 15 years ago. The phrase “terrorist” was a joke that no one took seriously, as opposed to some potential threat always lurking on the fringes and making people check your bags at theme parks. I was a video store clerk. I was a mallrat. I too harbored a crush on Joey Lauren Adams. And the “Askewniverse” for all its gross out gags and cartoon silliness, also spoke true for more than a few times.

I hope Kevin Smith finds his way back to that “truthfulness” and candid demeanor that he once held with his earlier works. The majority of his stories these days seem to veer more towards the numerous times he gets stoned these days (an irony in itself, considering that he was a straight-edge in real life merely played a stoner). And I’m not exactly sure what the Hell kind of mood that you need to be in order to watch Tusk (an issue that I’ve constantly had stonewalling me every time that I’ve even remotely considered watching Human Centipede as well. Seriously, what place do you have to be in to watch these films? It’s like “I wonder if…. Nah. I still can’t do this.” Dude. Seriously. I can’t wrap my head around it).

In any case, it was a fond revisit to an older time in my life, with friends both from a cinematic world and from my own personal experiences. And it’s reminded me that I still have some stories that I need to tell, and well, I’m not getting any younger. And there’s a lot to say.

I think it’s time to start finally writing and telling those stories for a change….

Not even supposed to be here today....

Not even supposed to be here today….

Pensacon.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a week and a half since I’ve gotten back from Pensacola.

For those that read my blog with any sense of regularity, I tend to go to Pensacola at least once a year these days. I grew up there for a while when I was kid, and have vacationed there for years since. It’s a place of good memories for me. Something new always happens there, whether it’s a day on the beach, revisiting my childhood home, or turning 40.

This time, it was all about Pensacon.

Cons are fun for me. While I’ve worked with all sort of celebrities over the last 10+ years, it’s fun to interact with them on the fan side as well. To be able to gush unabashedly about how much I love their work, how are they doing, etc. And I don’t really get starstruck meeting said “famous” folk, but there’s a side story to that later.

Getting ready for the convention kept me busy in itself.

Jen talked me into dressing up this ear, which I don’t really do. I was going to go as the Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who as I had the long coat from an earlier Christmas gift that Jen had given to me a year or so back. So I ordered the matching suit…. Which wouldn’t be delivered until I got back. So I opted to go as Mork from Ork to pay homage to Robin Williams. Not too bad….

Nanu nanu!

Nanu nanu!

I even had the buttons ordered with “guaranteed delivery” before we flew out…. But some mix-up had them shipped out the day that I was supposed to get them in. So I had two incomplete costumes , with “Mork” being the more complete of the two.

As the days passed to the trip, I went to meet a friend to see an early screening of Deadpool. On the way to the theater, I happened to duck into this little Disney art gallery at the shopping center, and by pure coincidence (for me) Paige O’Hara (“Belle” from Beauty and the Beast) was there. No lie: I crushed on Belle in my youth, as the bookish, independent girl was my idea of the “perfect” girl that I wanted to date, so admittedly I got a little giddy hearing that voice talk to me, and she was just an incredibly sweet lady.

One crush down....

One crush down….

Finally, the time had come to go to Pensacon. I have to give Pensacola full credit: The whole town gets into it, from the airport, to restaurants, to the entirety of Downtown. It all turns into one giant geeky lovefest. We ended up staying at the hotel we had stayed at last time, in the room right next door to where we had stayed last time. The manager even recognized us from last time. This is why I love small towns, to be honest. Well, that and the seafood.

When not at the beach, we were at the convention. The first day was rough, as we ended up getting there late, and we were supposed to have a photo op with Bruce Boxleitner (Tron). In trying to get to the photo area, no less than six volunteers told us no less than six places where the photo area supposedly was, and none of them were correct. We missed the photo I had scheduled. The last place put us in the place where the convention headliners were, so we did meet Bruce, and after hearing our story, agreed to do an informal picture with us. We also talked Tron for a while, so it was good experience all things considered.

Later that night, we went to Downtown Pensacola’s Gallery Night, which is a big art festival that they do Downtown, similar to Vegas’ First Friday, but larger in scale. The mood was lively, and we were supposed to attend a screening of Mallrats, but again, the Friday gods were not on our side. Friday had some rough spots.

Saturday turned out better. Heard David Prowse (Darth Vader) do a Q&A, attended some writing workshops, and we did have a photo op with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and the original Davros (Terry Molloy). “You’re my first regeneration”, I told Peter, to which he chuckled, and noted my Mork suspenders. To fully give a shout out, I have to commend Wolf Studios Photography. I told them about the previous day’s photo clustermess, and how everyone had led us on a wild photo goosechase. As it so happened, Bruce was doing another shoot at that time, so they let us jump in to make up for the confusion of the day before.

What was really weird for me was that while we were waiting, a guy dressed as Jack Sparrow nodded towards my direction, and I nodded back. “You look familiar”, he finally said. “He was in the second Pirates“, Jen replied back, to which his eyes went wide. “Hold on a sec”, I said as I fished out my phone and tried to summon the Facebook fairies. “The wi-fi here is shitty, but let’s see if I can call up my photos”. I found my Black Pearl/Flying Dutchman shots, and showed him “I thought I recognized you”, he said. “I was a little hairier back then”, I chuckled. He got his girlfriend, and introduced her to me, and I and Jen in return. We had a nice talk until my photo op was called. I don’t really get recognized like I used to, but it’s always nice to be remembered, and I do love talking to people and seeing them get excited.

Saturday was far better a day of adventure, which followed up with Fallout and Tron themed parties.

Meeting "Matt"....

Meeting “Matt”….

I also got a migraine that night, but that’s on me for mixing my drinks.

While Sunday was the final lap of the convention, I had one last photo scheduled….

Joey Lauren Adams.

This girl was the very definition of my ’90′s crushes, and I was enamored with her in Chasing Amy. From her cutesy, raspy voice to her big friendly smile, she had basically kidnapped my 20-something heart in the late 1990′s.

And I admit that I was good. I was looking forward to saying “Hello”, and getting the photo to have as the movie once put: “A shared moment”.

And then the curtain parted, and I heard her talking to the person that had been in line before me in that cutesy, raspy voice, and saw her big friendly smile.

All that boisterous “I don’t get starstruck” grandstanding that I had delivered earlier in this entry? Yeah, that failed. After years of Chasing Amy, she was standing right in front of me.

My heart started speeding up in my chest, and I felt that dopey, awkward 20-something twitterpation reemerge in meeting her. To credit, she was very sweet, and I kept myself collected well enough, but damn it all if I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for a while. Jen definitely had fun teasing me about that.

I have a good woman.

Photo ops from Pensacon.

Photo ops from Pensacon.

The rest of the time was eating, packing, shell collecting…. That mental preparation in saying good-bye, which is always hard for me. It was a nice event. Downtown was fun. People were nice. I even saw a few props from Star Trek: The Experience at one of the restaurants, so it was another homecoming of sorts for me.

And then we flew home….

Into the air....

Into the air….

The ride back was rough. A delay caused an extra stopover in our flight home, where some mouth breather coughed and sneezed all the way home, so guess who went all “Outbreak Monkey” after a few days? Nevertheless, I recovered, and I have been inspired to pursue some of my writing ideas again. Likely inspired by the convention, I ended up watching Kevin Smith’s “View Askewniverse” films, where the “Then Vs. Now” changes really hit me about video stores, malls being the primary source of commerce, and even something as simple as being able to greet someone at the airport without it being an issue. Things that are mostly gone. I saw Wes Craven’s cameo in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and I felt compelled to say a quiet “good bye” to him. He was, after all, one of the first people to give me a chance with my acting career by doing Red Eye, and I felt a rush of sadness mixed with gratitude seeing his face again.

It may be time to write my own stories. To get back into the writing that I excel at. What I do best. And that’s telling stories.

The future’s a funny place. It will be interesting to see where I end up.