Book Review: An Askew View 2 by John Kenneth Muir

Director Kevin Smith’s production company is called View Askew, which made the title of John Kenneth Muir‘s filmography An Askew View something of a no-brainer. The book was published in 2002, and has just been updated as An Askew View 2. Muir seeks to answer the burning question of what has been happening in Smith’s “Askewniverse” in the 10 years since the book was first published.

Kevin Smith roared out of the gate with Clerks (1994). The story behind it has passed into Hollywood legend, but it is still fun to tell. In the simplest terms, he was a man with a dream, and with basically no money, he made it come true. Smith funded Clerks by maxing-out his credit cards, which added up to around $26,000. The film wound up grossing $3.1 million. In box-office land, that type of return on investment is definitely noticed.

It was also a critical favorite, and nominated for a number of awards. Clerks was a well-written, and very funny movie. It had plenty of weird moments and was shot in black and white. There was something perfect about that film. On his very first outing, Smith had trapped lightning in a bottle.

Mallrats (1995) was next. With this one, it seemed that all the promise Smith showed had been wasted on a by-the-numbers teen romp. Many of us figured Kevin Smith‘s 15 minutes were already up. Smith himself did not though and proved it with Chasing Amy (1997). It is an excellent film and reaffirmed Smith’s position as a comer in Hollywood. The author claims it was this movie that inspired him to write An Askew View.

One of the things that makes Kevin Smith so interesting is his erratic, or maybe just eccentric performance as a director. Try as he might, his offbeat personality shines through all of his work. Sometimes to great effect, sometimes, not so much. Dogma (1999) is one of those films that people agree to disagree about. I am not the biggest fan of the movie, but the author loved it. He supports his position with enough good points to make me consider giving it another shot.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) was the final film discussed in the first edition of An Askew View. Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) were two very memorable stoners who sold pot outside the Quick Stop in Clerks. Like so many things in the Askewniverse, the pair developed a cult following, which led to them being featured in their first full-length movie.

Muir’s description of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is apt: “Replete with a gaggle of celebrity cameos and a laugh-a-minute pace, Jay and Silent Bob is essentially a big budget ($20 million) party, a celebration of all things Jay and Silent Bob.” It is a lot of fun, and full of parodies. Smith takes on Internet nerds, Hollywood, Batman, Star Wars, and includes one of the funniest takes on Planet of the Apes ever. For anyone who has yet to see this one, it is hilarious.

The first edition of An Askew View concluded with a chapter about Clerks: The Animated Series (2000). This is one Kevin Smith item I have never seen, because the ABC network only aired two half-hour episodes before pulling the plug. Six episodes were produced, and they are now available on DVD.

The new material Muir has added begins with the 2004 release of Jersey Girl. The chapters follow the same format as set out in the original edition. The author discusses the film, its impact, box-office, and salient points. The final section of each entry includes memorable Askewniverse quotes about the films in question. Muir brings us up to date with features on Clerks II (2006), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008), Cop Out (2010), and Red State (2011).

The chapter “Kevin Smith Around the Galaxy” focuses on other Smith projects over the past 10 years. These include his appearances in the documentary Starwoids (about fans waiting for the premiere of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace), and a similar project for Spider-Man with the great Stan Lee. His position as an executive producer and TV director are also discussed.

An Askew View 2 concludes with “A Tribute to Jay and Silent Bob,” which compares the comedy duo to such luminaries as Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and my personal favorite “A Gen X Cheech and Chong.”

It is a little hard to believe that Kevin Smith has been in the business for nearly 20 years now. His career path has been an unusual one, to say the least. In some ways his appeal is almost definitively a cult one, yet at times he has scored huge successes in the mainstream. An Askew View 2 is not a straight biography of the man by any means, but in discussing Smith’s films, the author sheds a great deal of light on the auteur himself. Since the publication of the first edition of the book, a great deal of personal and professional changes have occurred in Smith’s life, and An Askew View 2 details them in an interesting and concise manner.

For fans of Kevin Smith, this book is recommended.

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Greg Barbrick

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