Sunday, June 29, 2008

Be Kind, Check this Out

I don't know if BE KIND, REWIND was screwed over by the marketing department or if director Michael Gondry was making a point about the way we brand movies. What I do know is that a movie with Jack Black, Mos Def, and an extraordinarily wacky premise isn't supposed to turn out as a loving treatise on the importance of community.

Quick summary: Mos Def works in a video store where Jack Black (who becomes magnetized in a great scene involving ingenious camouflage) accidentally erases all of the videotapes. Because no one carries VHS anymore, they can't replace the tapes. So they do the only logical thing: they remake the movies themselves with an ancient camcorder and a process they term "Sweding." They begin with GHOSTBUSTERS and by the end, they have Sweded over 200 movies, including ROBOCOP, KING KONG, THE LION KING, and, DRIVING MISS DAISY. The community comes to like the Sweded films better than the originals and a phenomenon is born.

Everything about this film screams unconcerned about whether people actually come to see it. Jack Black, Mos Def, and all the rest treat the movie as a kind of love letter to both film and to community. They have the aura of artists who so truly love the material that they are doing this for free, and the result is an electric kind of chemistry that shouldn't work, but manages to defy all logic and does anyway. A movie that includes Jack Black's magnetized urine shouldn't be lovely and touching, but is.

Gondry, who also wrote the script, turns Hollywood stereotypes on their heads throughout the picture. When Danny Glover's video store (which only carries VHS) is on the brink of demolition by a developer, every other movie ever made would have portrayed the developer as a money-hungry Texan who has no sympathy for the people and culture he's displacing. Gondry treats the character as a sympathetic man who is truly trying to improve the quality of life of the people of Passaic. Mia Farrow's character, an old lady that is the impetus for their movie-making (she's the one that wanted to watch GHOSTBUSTERS) is a beautiful woman that cares selflessly for the young black men of the community.

Race, although always present in the film - the three main stars of the Sweded movies are white, black, and Hispanic - is never discussed directly, but wonderfully and hilariously shown in context, such as during the filming of DRIVING MISS DAISY where Jack Black is the Jessica Tandy character to Mos Def's Morgan Freeman. When Jack shows up in blackface to play Fats Waller - he figures he's the right man to play him since he too is fat, Danny Glover takes him outside gently to discuss the problem. We don't hear the reprimand, but we do see it in what may be the best scene of the movie.

BE KIND REWIND ends with a scene out of a Frank Capra film, a scene just short of sappy, but so lovely that both Janna and I had the beginnings of tears in our eyes. Overall, the movie is a paean to interconnectedness. It's a simple film with a small budget that is more than the sum of its parts. It's a sort of anti-HAPPENING for me. Rather than liking it less and less the more I think about it, I like and admire BE KIND REWIND more and more.

4 and a half magnetized drops of urine out of 5.


the hamster said...

my favorite thing about this film is that the whole thing feels Sweded itself. for instance, you mentioned the scriptwriter, but half the scenes in this film feel so awkwardly improvised that it creates this amazing energy that only exists in very few of the really great saturday night live skits. at times the awkwardness makes this film difficult to watch, but later, as you mentioned, this may be the most enduring aspect of the whole she-bang.

i also agree that the ending was completely unexpected and somehow totally sincere. i fell for it. teared up and believing the whole bit all the way.

my favorite sweded material was the remake of RUSH HOUR.

good call, sir. four and half ecto-pisses fo' sho. you also wrote a great review here.

hey, look at this:

the hamster said...

i meant to say:

"this may be the most ENDEARING aspect..."

hamsters need typographical grace, too.

stevie said...

AGREE with this review!! This film is a farce/comedy, then turns into an inspirational family film in the last third. The script is all over the place, the characters are rattle-scattered out of a bag, and Mia Farrow (!?) makes a cameo. YET I LOVED IT! I always find Gondry refreshing and innocent of conventions, and this thing tickled me with its silliness and gullibility (in that everyone seems to really BELIEVE).

Also (I just need a place to say this), I can't STAND that "stuffwhitepeoplelike" stuff, hamster. I find it so snide and knowing and mean-spirited: everything I don't like in me. Just had to say it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I freakin' love this blog already! I'm gonna start reading this instead of (I really don't know why I'm addicted to checking its headlines every hour). Thank you, guys, for making movie reviews informative AND fun again.

Oh, and just to throw in my two cents about THE HAPPENING, I went to see it on opening night and 1/3 of the way through the movie, a fist fight breaks out in the audience. Yes, an actual, honest-to-God fist fight between two moviegoers. Needless to say, most of the crowded theater stood up in excitement, because the punches flying on the eighth row were way more exciting than Marky Mark looking confused.
Despite finishing the film and deciding it was the worst M Night film yet, I still think we failed THE HAPPENING as an audience...

danielle said...

Weell though I liked the movie and feel that it is MILES above most others and to anyone else but you H'ster would defend it to the end, but it felt a little too sweet n' salty (read cryin' at da candy coated moments) and couldn't get into the sweet moments. It hurts to say in as I am a Gondry fan - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is my top fave movie. It still is brilliant and I loved almost all of it.

danielle said...

PS saw Teeth, half of Shinobi, From Dawn to Dusk, read two graphic novels and went to the Vancouver Art gallery and saw the Krazy show all in the last 36 hours. My mind is now cherry flavored jello. (with extra chocolate sauce- looks better in B & W )

Anonymous said...

Just rented this and watched in on your recommendations (never got around to it in the theater and forgot about it). I thought it was great - one of the most original, creative movies I have seen in a long time...