Be Kind Rewind

(2008) *** Pg-13
101 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Michel Gondry. Cast: Jack Black, Dante 'Mos Def' Smith, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz.

"What's happening to our 'hood?!" --Jerry (Jack Black) as Tré, Be Kind Rewind

Oscar-winning writer-director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is a specialist in artsy-craftsy whimsy. To him, reality is a dirty word. So limiting, so bourgeois. Why settle for garden-variety drama or earthbound comedy when you can have a flight of fancy? Though we probably shouldn't eat dessert all the time, we can savor Gondry's films when, every once in a while, they roll around: they're license to turn off the mindset of intellectual responsibility and turn on the kid brain.

Our cinematic Willy Wonka is at again with Be Kind Rewind, a sort of cross between Repo Man, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Gondry's own The Science of Sleep. Gondry crafts another set of handmade hijinks through two scrappy boyz 'n the Passaic, New Jersey 'hood. Jack Black plays Jerry, an eccentric gadabout who becomes magnetized and accidentally wipes out every VHS tape in the neighborhood video store/second-hand shop. Jerry and video clerk Mike (Mos Def) set out to re-film (or, as they call it, "Swede") the missing movies, one at a time, as requested by customers. If they fail, it'll mean the end of the video store, due to be bulldozed for a city redevelopment project. The store's demise would devastate its owner, poor old Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), though he's not necessarily keen on the boys' plan.

The homemade movie conceit allows for all manner of wacky creative solutions, a la the Rooney-Garland "let's put on a show" paradigm. How to remake Ghostbusters? Proton streams become Christmas tinsel strung onto fishing poles. A ghost is achieved with a plastic bag and a flashlight. Don't even ask about the slime. Even though Jerry and Mike's Ghostbusters is only 20 minutes, their new service surprisingly becomes an instant hit. Soon they're fielding requests for Rush Hour 2, Robocop, and Driving Miss Daisy (the latter is requested by Mia Farrow's Miss Falewicz, a store regular who seems to have a thing for Glover's gentle, Hoke-like old-timer).

In a delirious one-shot "montage, Gondry blows our minds with clever low-tech recreations of 2001: A Space Odyssey, When We Were Kings, King Kong, Carrie, and Men in Black. The excitement of filmmaking proves infectious. When a studio representative (played by--wait for it...--Ghostbusters star Sigourney Weaver) shows up to shut down the copyright infringement, the locals pitch in to make their own movie about legendary and supposedly local jazz great "Fats" Waller. If, as Jerry affirms, "Life without civilization is brutal, nasty, and short," life within a happy community is ecstatic, warm, and rewarding. In this vein, neighbors (including I'm Not There's star-in-training Marcus Carl Franklin) become "stockholders of their own happiness" instead of corporate-consumer drones.

Gondry's intentionally corny instant cult film won't be for all tastes, but those who let go and take the ride will enjoy a humbly charming, genuine celebration of the creative spirit, something like a live-action Muppet movie capped with a bittersweet requiem that feels like vintage Woody Allen. It's a kid's movie for adults, a charming notion for a time of postmodern ennui.

[For Groucho's interview with Michel Gondry, click here.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround

Street date: 6/17/2008

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

The first surprise on popping in the Blu-Ray of Be Kind Rewind is the hi-def menu, shot on washed-out, glitchy videotape. Of course, it's perfectly in keeping with the cheerily low-rent style of the movies within the movie—gotta love it. A film like Be Kind Rewind—with its source image varying in degrees of cleanliness—is a better test of Blu-Ray than a sparkling clean source shot on hi-def, and it passes with flying colors. Colors are accurately rendered, detail is excellent, and the image is pleasingly natural. What's more, you get a surprisingly dynamic 7.1 surround soundtrack.

A number of valuable bonus features are included, beginning with "Passaic Mosaic" (10:22), a short film highlighting the New Jersey town where the film was largely shot, by talking to its denizens (Michel Gondry, Jack Black, Mia Farrow, and Melonie Diaz also comment). "Booker T & the Michel Gondry" (6:41) is a featurette for which I've been waiting: a deleted scene surrounded by behind-the-scenes footage of its shooting. That description might sound ordinary, but the actors in the scene include Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Scott, all legends of blues and jazz. The featurette also includes a peek at a soundtrack recording session with Gondry on the drums.

"Jack & Mos Improvise Songs" (4:58) observes Gondry putting the actors through their paces as they make up spontaneous riffs about When We Were Kings, King Kong, Carrie, "Super Flying Man," Men in Black, and 2001. "A Conversation with Jack Black and Michel Gondry" (6:03) is free-ranging fun that lives up to its title, with a revealing blooper left on the tail end. "Fats Was Born 'Here'" (11:28) presents for your perusal the finished film-within-the-film in its entirety.

"The Making of Be Kind Rewind" (33:20) is an extraordinary behind-the-scenes doc that gives a sense of what a day's shooting might be like on the film (frustrating but creatively rewarding) with a few extended segments instead of diced-up B-roll footage. Most interestingly we go "backstage" to see Mos Def doing his costume changes and running through a tangle of set during the filming of the one-take "montage" of Sweded films—oh, and Mia Farrow takes us through her profile. Amazing stuff. "Mos Def, Michel Gondry and Jean-Michel Bernard Live!—Tribute to Fats Waller" is a terrific six-minute clip from a performance on March 3, 2008. The songs are "Your Feets Too Big," "Squeeze Me," "I Ain't Got Nobody," and "The Joint Is Jumpin'." Lastly, we get the Theatrical Trailer (2:30). In short, this cool movie gets the sort of cool Blu-Ray one would expect, in keeping with the Michel Gondry style.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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