Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie

Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are currently touring the country with Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, an animated feature which finds their popular stoner characters "drawn out of retirement".

Cody was at one of the screenings, and this is how it all went down.

The fact that Jason Mewes has long struggled with substance abuse issues is well known, and was well documented by Kevin Smith in the nine part "Me and My Shadow" blog series he posted on SilentBobSpeaks. In 2003, Mewes made his way out of the dark days of drug addiction. He racked up several years of sobriety, but a few years back he had a relapse. He was able to keep his drug use a secret from his wife and friends for a while, but it eventually became obvious. An intervention was staged. Mewes cleaned up his act again and bounced back from his relapse like a man reborn, with stronger drive, determination, and ambition. His fans have become part of the process, a support group for him to have extra accountability to. Kevin and Mewes do a regular podcast called Jay & Silent Bob Get Old, and in every episode Mewes gives an update on how many days clean he has. It's around three years now. He has bought a house, he wants to start a family with his wife, and he wants to expand his career in the film industry. That last part is how we end up with the movie of the subject. Mewes was interested in trying his hand at being a producer, so he turned to Kevin to see if he had any material around that he could make into a short or something.

Kevin pulled out the script for The Adventures of Bluntman & Chronic, a graphic novel that had been published in 2001 as a tie-in to the release of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. The graphic novel was presented as a collection of the Bluntman & Chronic stories written by the characters from Chasing Amy, Holden McNeil and Banky Edwards, that were being adapted into the movie that Jay & Silent Bob wanted to crash the production of in Strike Back. Kevin did a polish on the old script and handed it over to Mewes.

Mewes then took the script to animator Steve Stark. Stark started off as a fan of the SModcast/SModCo podcast empire who would use his free time to turn stories from the podcasts into animated shorts. When Kevin and company saw Stark's work, they hired him to make these cartoons in an official capacity for the SModCo Cartoon Show. Now with Kevin's script in hand and Mewes and his wife Jordan Monsanto acting as producers with a budget of $69,000, Stark became the director of an animated feature film.

When the movie was finished, Mewes opted to take it out on tour for multiple screenings around the country, like Kevin did with Red State in 2011. The Groovy Movie tour is going on now, with several shows already done and more left to go.

I got to see the movie back on June 7th when the Studio 35 theatre in Columbus, Ohio was able to book a screening. I think the theatre is a smaller venue than most of the places on the tour, but they have a good history with the SModCo family, as I wrote about last summer.

As the show date neared, there arose reason to be concerned. A screening that had been set to happen in North Carolina the night before was re-scheduled at the last minute because Mewes's wife Jordan had fallen ill and he stayed home to take her to a doctor. I watched the Twitter streams and Studio 35 website and Facebook to make sure our show was still going to happen, and on the afternoon of June 7th I headed to Columbus. When I arrived at Studio 35 a half hour before the doors were supposed to open for Groovy Movie ticket holders, things didn't look good. The only people outside the theatre were stragglers, smokers, and the owners... As it turned out, Mewes wasn't the one I should've been focusing my no-show worries toward. When I walked up to the theatre, the owners informed me that Kevin wasn't going to be there. On the next episode of Jay & Silent Bob Get Old that was posted, Kevin told the story of why he didn't make it to Ohio - the efforts of his disobedient dachshund Shecky and a traffic cop had caused him to miss his flight.

With Kevin absent, ticket holders were offered the option of attending the night's events or getting a refund. Most of us said, "On with the show." Kevin wasn't there, but he's been to Studio 35 three times before, he'll surely return again. In the meantime, Mewes was still in attendance, and he wasn't alone. Webmaster/Thursday SMorning Show and I Sell Comics podcaster/Tell 'Em Steve-Dave whipping boy/cast member of Comic Book Men (soon to start filming its third season) Ming Chen had made the drive to Columbus from New Jersey, since he has some personal ties to Ohio's capital, and the idea of a Mewes and Ming show was very enticing to me.

There wasn't anybody outside the theatre because the doors had opened early, so I went in, bought a Bluntman and Chronic T-shirt from the merch table, got a bucket of popcorn and a drink from the concession stand, then entered the auditorium to find myself a seat.

Soon after 7pm, Ming kicked the night off with a brief introduction, then the lights dimmed and the show began.

The movie was preceded by a short, a condensed version of the Kevin Smith's Cartoon Lagoon show that is currently available on iTunes. In the Cartoon Lagoon set-up, Kevin, Mewes, and a puppet representation of Shecky go for a tour in their personal submarine and have wacky misadventures, and in the segment we were shown they have to play a cartoon to distract a Great White shark named Benchley (voiced by Hollywood Babble-On co-host Ralph Garman) that has swum up into the sub's toilet and is threatening to eat them. The cartoon shown was one of Steve Stark's SModCo Cartoon Show episodes, an animated visualization of a SModcast bit in which Kevin and Scott Mosier go on a vulgar riff about the movie Gremlins and the potential dangers of being a Mogwai owned by a teenage boy. While I assume I've seen most if not all of the cartoons within it, I haven't seen Cartoon Lagoon itself in full. Judging by this excerpt, the wraparound segments look to be some amusing lunacy.

And now, our feature presentation.

Super Groovy Cartoon Movie starts on what at first appears to be just another average day in the lives of Jay and Silent Bob, with the pair hanging around outside the Quick Stop convenience and RST Video stores, doing their thing, smoking, harrassing women who pass by, etc. Then things start to get very strange. Over the course of an afternoon, Jay and Bob find themselves in the proximity of scenarios that comic book fans (or comic book movie fans) will recognize as the origin points for several superheroes: a Green Lantern-esque spaceship crash, an encounter with a nerdy kid and a radioactive spider in a science lab, Super Soldier serum tests (which Jay and Bob are drawn to by the idea of getting free drugs), the near miss of an accident at a crosswalk involving an old man, a blind kid, and a truck that loses part of its load - a cannister of ooze... Jay and Bob repeatedly come just short of superhero greatness and don't even realize it.

Then Bob wins ten million dollars on a scratch-off ticket, and the idea that any logical person should have when they net riches immediately comes to their minds: they can use this money to become real life superheroes.

They buy a mansion, get a British butler (voiced by Neil Gaiman), build gadgets and weapons, including their own versions of lightsabers, get a badass car, and set up a spotlight signal to be shined in the sky whenever the city needs their help. Their superhero identities: Bluntman and Chronic.

Bluntman and Chronic immediately get to work cleaning up the city streets, busting low-level criminals and supervillains alike. But being Jay and Silent Bob, they also have no qualms about using their equipment for less than noble acts as well, like voyeurism or theft.

They soon have enough insane supervillains pissed off at them that the angry Lipstick Lesbian (the vocal stylings of Eliza Dushku) gathers a select bunch of them together to form a team called The League of Shitters, who set out to get revenge on our stoner heroes.

Most of the baddies who make up the Shitters are voiced by actors who are either connected to the SModCo podcasts or the YouTube channel. There's the hulking Dickhead, voiced by Ralph Garman doing his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. Comedian Ben Gleib, host of the Last Week on Earth news podcast, plays Newsgroup, an internet talkbacker troll with a computer embedded in his chest. Brian Faraldo of the Comichead YouTube show voices the constantly masturbating token black character The Diddler.

Other members of the SModCo crew, including Bryan Johnson, Walt Flanagan, Impractical Jokers' Brian Quinn, Ming Chen, Michael Zapcic, Scott Mosier, Plus One's Jennifer Schwalbach, soundman/Tha' Breaks' James Franco (not the one who hosted the Oscars), and The ABCs of SNL's Jon Lovitz also voice characters that show up throughout. Plus, animated series Batman Kevin Conroy!

The assumption going in was that Mark Hamill, who played a live action version of the villainous CockKnocker in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, would reprise his character in animated form, but Hamill went incommunicado in the middle of negotiations, so the role was recast with veteran female voice actor Tara Strong. Strong brought her Powerpuff Girl Bubbles voice, or a variation thereof, to the character, and it is absolutely hilarious to hear some of CockKnocker's lines delivered in a such a high-pitched, girly voice.

The story of Super Groovy will be familiar to any fans who read the Bluntman & Chronic graphic novel back in the day, as the movie is a rather faithful adaptation of it, but it's fun to see it brought to animated life. The revision also added jokes and expanded the superheroics, particularly in the third act. The comic book movies that have been made since the comic was published provide fodder for some of the new jokes, allowing for references to things like Ben Affleck as Daredevil, The Dark Knight Rises' Bane voice, and The Avengers' Loki pokey stick. There's even a joke about the Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that might not make sense for much longer if the controversial element of the turtles being an alien race, as they were in a draft of the script that leaked online, doesn't make it to the finished version of that film.

Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie has a whole lot of (quite low-brow) humor packed into its quickly paced short running time - I'm not sure how long it is, but for childish giggles I'll say it runs approximately 69 minutes. It provides the laughs, then lets you get on your way. I was very entertained and had fun watching it with the crowd.

While the main point is of course the comedy, I don't think I'm overselling it when I say that, during a confrontation between Jay and CockKnocker, this flick contains one of the greatest moments ever seen in a superhero comic book movie.

Marvel style, a post-credits cameo sets up a sequel which, we found out during the Q&A that followed, may end up being the screenwriting debut of Jason Mewes.

After the movie ended, there was a short break, then Mewes came to the front of the auditorium to record an episode of Jay & Silent Bob Get Old with special guest co-host Ming Chen. They did a Q&A that covered a multitude of subjects, a female audience member flashed her breasts, then Mewes updated us on his numbers of days clean, and the show wrapped up as Get Old live shows do - with a game of "Let Us Fuck". Taking its name from a line in Zack & Miri Make a Porno, this game has Mewes simulating outrageous sexual positions with wacky names like "Ewok Cock Block" with lucky members of the audience. Kevin does not partake in this game, but Ming did. Mewes and Ming performed two simulated sex acts each.

With that, the show ended. Mewes went out a back exit to take a smoke break before the meet and greet he was going to do with fans, but Ming made his way toward the front of the theatre, walking down the aisle beside my chair. I stood waiting for the line down the aisle to progress so I could step out of my row, and the line ended up stopping for a moment with Ming right in front of me. I had seen Ming hanging out in the lobby earlier, talking to people, but I hadn't approached him. Now he was right there. I had a socially awkward moment where I didn't know whether to say something, reach out to shake his hand, or just let him move on. It was a dilemma that he solved for me. He reached out to shake my hand. So I said "Hey" to Ming Chen while shaking his hand, which was pretty cool, a nice cap on a fun night.

Then the line moved on, I stepped in behind Ming and made my way out of the theatre. Before leaving Columbus, I stopped by a pizza place that Ming had been talking about on his podcasts the day before, a place called Mikey's Late Night Slice. I couldn't pass up an item called Cheezus Crust (a sandwich made of two slices of pizza put together face down, with melted American cheese between) and also bought a bottle of Mikey's famous Slut Sauce. I enjoyed my pizza and headed home.

It was unfortunate that Kevin hadn't been able to make it to Studio 35, but Mewes and Ming rocked the place in his absence and I had a great time. Whenever any of these guys return to my neck of the woods, I'll be there to see them once again.

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