Some still call Clerks the best film of writer-director Kevin Smith's career. (I'm partial to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. ) It's a fun movie, made on Smith's credit cards and full of prime movie-geek dialogue (the bit about all of the independent contractors who died in Return of the Jedi while constructing the Death Star is priceless). The film also features Jay and Silent Bob (the vulgar Jason Mewes and Smith) in their embryonic drug-dealer form, in which Jay was almost violently nasty (his flying fart attack still kills me). It's being released on DVD at the same time as Jersey Girl, Smith's latest and weakest film, a sweet yet uneven ode to his baby daughter. This way, diehard Smith fans can comfort themselves by revisiting his greatness, which should put them in a good mood before dealing with Ben Affleck admirably floundering as a single father in Girl. Smith has made a sequel to Clerks official (Clerks 2: The Passion of the Clerks is on the way for 2005), and that's good news. It will be interesting to see where convenience store clerks Dante and Randal (Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson) stand 10 years down the road. It also represents Smith, thankfully, going back on his word and continuing the adventures of Jay and Silent Bob.
Special Features: Clerks X is a three-disc extravaganza featuring two versions of the film. Disc one contains the theatrical version, all polished and pretty looking, with a "classic" commentary done in '95 by Smith, a drunken Mewes and others. Disc two contains the first cut, taken from a Super VHS copy in all of its dingy, ragged glory, including a deleted scene in which Dante gets shot to death in the end (always a bad idea). Disc three has the excellent documentary The Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks, a 90-minute documentary that chronicles the film's history. Other features include intros and fun stuff from Smith and producer Scott Mosier, and the hilarious Jay and Silent Bob shorts made for MTV. The Jersey Girl disc is a nice effort, with the single disc offering two commentaries (Smith is joined by the likes of Affleck, Mewes and Mosier). While they have nothing to do with Jersey Girl, Smith includes his Tonight Show segments called Roadside Attractions. They are all very funny.
This is possibly the greatest film ever made for television--a six-hour triumph directed by Mike Nichols and based on Tony Kushner's Tony Award-winning plays. Set in 1985, Justin Kirk plays Prior, abandoned by his lover shortly after discovering he has AIDS. As he struggles with his illness, a fiery angel (Emma Thompson) visits Earth to declare him a prophet, a role he's not sure he wants to take on. Al Pacino is fiercely profane as Roy Cohn, the late Republican attorney who was allegedly a major prick. Meryl Streep is her usual great self in multiple roles, including the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, the infamous traitor that Cohn helped put to death. Mary-Louise Parker is heartbreaking as Harper, a Valium-addicted housewife who finds out her husband is gay and has hallucinations of Antarctica in her refrigerator. The film is at once very sad and often supremely funny, taking on the form of one intense fever dream after another. It's also an amazing technical achievement, a beautiful piece of work that stands alongside The Graduate as Nichols' greatest films. Kirk's last speech, in which he declares that AIDS sufferers will not die secret deaths anymore, is last year's most emotionally powerful cinematic moment, and it's a shame that rules and regulations disqualified the movie from Oscar eligibility.
That great Simpsons sensibility is all over Futurama, created by Matt Groening and officially off the air as of last year. For four seasons, Groening and company told the story of Fry (voice of the great Billy West), a pizza-delivery man who fell asleep and woke up in the future, where the Groening world manages to maintain its special strain of hilarity. My favorite character is Professor Farnsworth, who must blow off steam in the futuristic Anger Dome when somebody wants to use his spaceship to go see a boyfriend. Richard Nixon's head makes an appearance in the episode A Taste of Freedom, in which he does a very elaborate commercial for Charleston Chew chocolate bars. Very strange and very funny.
Special Features: Groening and company provide commentary for all 18 episodes in this four-disc set. Plenty of deleted scenes and storyboards to peruse.