4 Stars Movies

Jack Black and Mos Def become misfit auteurs in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind is a more mainstream effort than the personal and heartfelt The Science of Sleep, but still imbued with his signature handmade style and many of his particular (some might say peculiar) obsessions.

The premise is brilliant in its simplicity: a pair of misfit doofuses accidentally erase every tape in their retro video rental store, and decide to remake an eclectic selection of them from scratch. The considerable humor comes not just in how Mike (Mos Def) and Jerry (Jack Black) recreate shots, costumes, casting, and special effects, but also in how they must reconstruct entire plots and scenes from memory alone. If you had to condense a movie you hadn’t seen since childhood (say, for example, Ghostbusters) down to 20 minutes, equipped only with a camcorder and a budget of approximately $0, how would you do it? Jerry randomly coins the word “sweded” to describe their work, a puzzling term that isn’t even a pun, but spontaneous absurdity is a virtue in Gondry’s world.

Be Kind Rewind
Mos Def has mos’ def’ had enough of Tranny Jack

Desperation inspires them to find a means of artistic expression, something many people spend lifetimes daydreaming about but never seize for themselves. Much as how Tim Burton characterized Ed Wood in his eponymous biopic, Mike and Jerry have true amateurs’ supreme confidence in their total filmmaking abilities. Their own ingenuity and the power of moviemaking inspires them with the realization that they can do anything and the trust that people will like what they do. Also like Wood, each obstacle they encounter merely increases their creativity.

Even before the inciting incident of mass erasure, Jerry was already something of an outsider artist. He operated an auto shop with very creative notions of “repairing” cars into souped-up rocket-powered BatMobiles. His character is initially very unlikable, and evidently something of a misogynist. We see him taunt and nearly physically threaten a woman in the video store. Later, he reveals a longing for cutie Alma (Melonie Diaz) working in the local laundry, but when moviemaking provides him with the opportunity to interact with her, he treats her as would a little boy with a “No Girls Allowed” treehouse. But that’s not to imply there’s something cute about his attitude towards women; there appears to be a barely suppressed contempt and threat of violence.

Be Kind Rewind
How long until they get around to remaking Gummo and American Psycho?

An obvious paradox is that Be Kind Rewind is a film from a major motion picture studio that celebrates the indie spirit (not to mention fair use of copyrighted materials) and vilifies the venal movie biz executives that inevitably materialize with cease-and-decist orders. Speaking of venal movie execs, the movie’s home at New Line Cinema no doubt introduced several hardly canonical films like the New Line property Rush Hour 2 into Gondry’s script. The overabundance of New Line posters and VHS tapes in the set design bric-a-brac is something of a joke. While it’s funny that a run-down video store might still have ratty old Blast From the Past posters hanging around, would a competing mainstream neon-lit DVD store (Blockbuster in all but name) really shill for the long-forgotten Woo?

Be Kind Rewind is at its most brilliant when recreating classic (and some not-so-classic) moments from cinema history, so much so that everything else in the film feels like a distraction from the true delights. But the powerfully moving climax is the premiere screening of Mike and Jerry’s masterpiece, made in collaboration with their entire community. Their maturity as auteurs is marked by their first truly original work; their film within a film is a fictionalized musical biopic of Fats Waller. If only all actual musical biopics could be so wonderful!

Full disclosure: I first saw an advance screening of Be Kind Rewind on February 22, but as I was then employed by the movie company distributing the film, I decided not to post my thoughts. Regardless, I had nothing to do with making or marketing the film, and any opinions expressed above are mine alone.

Must Read:’s Be Kind Rewind archive

3 Stars Movies

Don’t leave Earth without Garth Jennings’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Yes, officer, I’d like to file a report. You see, I’m being threatened. I received word that If I don’t actually start writing stuff in my blog, I’m going to have my virtual pants pulled down in front of at least half a dozen complete strangers with well-tended blogs. Or is that if I DO actually start writing stuff… oh, I’m confused. Wait! Officer, where are you going? Oh well, I’ll just get on with a sentence or two about this DVD I just saw, and hope I remembered to put on presentable underthings this morning.

I’m one of THOSE people, you know the ones… while the rest of my peers obsessed over Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, I had my head stuck in Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I would drop my Nerf football or Legos every Saturday afternoon at 3 to run inside and catch Doctor Who on PBS. And for some unscheduled Brit-sci-fi fun, my collection (complete but always far from mint) of Douglas Adams paperbacks always waited for me.

So for me and my ilk, 2005 looked to be a great year — not only was Doctor Who regenerated (seemingly out of nowhere, when there was no hope to be had even by the most blindly optimistic of fans) by none other than the BBC itself, somebody at Disney (Disney?!) finally threw up their hands and actually made that Hitchhiker’s script that had been kicking around Hollywood for decades (not an exaggeration). Surely, some of my geek brethren must have grown up and scored jobs in the entertainment industry.

Not having been broadcast anywhere on this side of the planet, I’ve only managed to see less than half of the new Doctor Who season thanks to the wonders of internet piracy. I’m here to say that it is pure, glorious, totally-different-and-yet-somehow-still-Who. But Hitchhiker’s? It’s a bit of a mess, I’m afraid. As a lifelong fan, it’s a bit surprising to find myself wishing the film was MORE mainstream. It’s hard to imagine anybody who had not read and reread the book (or at least already appreciative of some Monty Python-style humor) not being totally and completely bewildered by the whole production.

Some of the casting is so perfect as to be impossible to imagine otherwise: the voices of Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry, and wotsisname from The Office was surely born to play the definitive Arthur Dent. But as much as I like Mos Def, it has to be said he’s a mumbler (huh? what’d he say?). The filmmakers had the right idea to go for practical effects as often as possible, including some much-missed old skool puppet work from the Jim Henson Company, but it sometimes just doesn’t sit right paired with off-the-shelf-pow-zoom-blow-your-mind-just-like-the-last-blockbuster-you-saw-this-summer CGI.

I reread the book for the first time in years, and it struck me that the whole thing is actually quite short, focused, and satisfying. It shouldn’t have been too hard to fashion it into a movie, but evidently the producers (and Adams himself, who co-wrote the screenplay) felt otherwise, quickly abandoning the plot specifics of the novel. But if the aim is to create an easily-digested summer blockbuster story, why (just for example) introduce a seemingly significant character who incapacitates a major character, who then promptly drops out of the story and the situation is never resolved? And the whole business about Zaphod’s brain would make no sense at all to anyone who isn’t a Hitchhiker’s expert (I wouldn’t have understood it myself if I hadn’t reread the book so recently).

Anyway, I could go on but it’s late and I need to charge my iPod and myself (i.e. go to sleep). So I’m going to take my pants off anyway! Ha!

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