Be Kind, Rewind
A lot of fun wrapped around a thought-provoking morsel
reviewed by Mark Burns
A couple of friends stumble into creative enlightenment in this whimsical message comedy.
Be Kind, Rewind is an old-school (VHS) video store just clinging to life in Passaic. Mike (Mos Def: 16 Blocks) is left in charge of his boss’ buck-a-night library when conspiracy-theorizing friend Jerry (Jack Black: Margot at the Wedding) threatens to sink it. For, after a perilous attempt at fighting the power, Jerry is magnetized and unwittingly erases every tape in the place. In desperation to please the owner’s friend and keep Mike out of trouble, they grab an old camcorder, make an abbreviated rip-off of Ghostbusters and hand it over with hopes she’s too far gone to know the difference. The dollar-video con ends up a hit, and soon the neighborhood is clamoring for their Sweded versions of Hollywood hits.
The obvious fun of the movie is seeing the homespun rip-offs take shape, as the friends piece together props and sets from the castoff of Jerry’s junkyard for adaptations of Robocop, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Driving Miss Daisy and The Lion King among others. The inventiveness of the camerawork and crudeness of scriptless, memory-derived roughs shot by a couple of enterprising dudes is hilarious.
Pastiche is but part of the equation, though. Writer/director Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep) is adept, especially early on in the film, at playing up odd little moments and whimsical touches. Whether in an eccentric auto customization, the curious slapstick of Jerry’s magnetic issues or a strangely intimate moustache test, Gondry establishes a smart, offbeat comic tone for the film. His camera probes the microcosm of one corner store, blending subtle strangeness with Jack Black’s weird energy to create a relatively balanced comedy that’s evocative of European forebears. Maybe even a smidge of Jerry Lewis.
Despite its strength, the comic angle is a touch understated. Perhaps so as not to undermine Gondry’s message. Through this film, the director embraces the concept of people being architects of their own lives; through Jerry and Mike’s journey he trumpets the deeper communal joy of creating your own entertainment among friends. They are fighting to keep the store open against the homogenizing forces of urban renewal and still blander corporate influence. By the time Sigourney Weaver appears in cameo, his message takes off, and with strikingly unsubtle metaphor. The film strikes a decidedly socialist theme as the unknowing heroes bring creative power to the people.
Overall, the film is refreshing for its thinky slapstick and embrace of low-budget charms. The conflict at its core is appropriate and timely. It is a bit weak, however, in the telling.
Gondry pays substantially more attention to honing his myriad elements than he does to bringing them together in the flow. While this film is remarkably lucid by comparison to his prior, The Science of Sleep, its progress is choppy. Gondry leaves you to intuit through small skips and perforations in the tale, and he often has trouble linking moments. Additionally, his engaging characters are sparely developed, largely by ambient clues.
The film still flows well enough to follow, sparkling so consistently and brightly that it distracts from storytelling’s hiccups. It helps that Gondry’s creative eye is so keen. His inventiveness in creating the Sweded films from simple means and found materials is evocative of the better genii of the American Visionary Art Museum. The man who brought us the Lego-animated video for White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” track (one of the coolest videos ever) has no lack of ideas for creating interesting visuals from simple ideas.
The idea of Sweding is apparently catching (just check out www.youtube.com/bekindrewind). For good reason. Be Kind, Rewind is a lot of fun wrapped around a tidy morsel for the brain. This one’s definitely one worth a ticket.
Good comedy • PG-13 • 101 mins.
Body of Lies
Like a roller coaster, this one has ups and downs before its long, slow, torturous roll to a stop.
reviewed by Jonathan Parker
Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio (or is it Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe?) star in the sort-of-thrilling CIA Middle East espionage action thriller Body of Lies. Director Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down; Gladiator) just can’t take his foot of the peddle with this promising vehicle that provides some early intrigue and excitement but continues too long after it has run out of gas.
Crowe plays Ed Hoffman, an old-school senior CIA operative who manages Middle East terrorist operations whether from CIA headquarters or on his cell phone in his suburban backyard. DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, an on-the-ground, whip-smart field agent who is taking out terrorists at various locales throughout the Middle East. Hoffman and Ferris’ job is catching Arab terrorists.
Their latest operation involves a terrorist safe house in Jordan and delicate operations with the head of Jordanian intelligence (Mark Strong). Not surprisingly, things go awry, and most disappointingly they do so because of Ferris’ love interest (Golshifteh Farahani), who enters the movie at just about the time we start looking at our watches.
The movie’s best part is its set-up, showing us the way Hoffman pulls the strings from Washington, even to watching the action live as it unfolds on spy satellite. From there the film, like a roller coaster, has ups and downs, some thrilling, some disappointing, until its long, slow, torturous roll to a stop.
In what seems to be the going trend with two superstars in the same movie, Crowe and DiCaprio barely appear on screen together (twice, I think). Instead, they mostly interact through cuts back and forth, with Crowe in Washington and DiCaprio in the Middle East. When they do appear side by side, nothing all that special happens. Their first scene together feels more like an odd cameo than a climactic dramatic scene.
I always wonder why in recent films the high-powered operatives are such serious jerks. Is this a requirement for the job? Why can’t anyone get anything done with some good old-fashioned coalition-building diplomacy, even maybe with smiles on their faces. Instead, the biggest jerks always seem to win the day. No, thank you.
Fair action thriller • R • 126 mins.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Suspend belief and you’ll have a blast. But motion sickness sufferers, be warned.
reviewed by Cathy Conway Miller
Fasten your seatbelts, folks! Amnesia victim and reluctant former assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damen) is roaming great cities of the world for a third time in search of his true identity in The Bourne Ultimatum.
The action takes place at breakneck speed, so don’t plan on getting up for popcorn once the movie starts. Don’t worry if you haven’t caught the first two Bournes (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy) or read the novels of the same names by Robert Ludlum. The good guys and bad guys are easily identifiable, and the plot is straightforward, with frequent references to the back story.
The film takes now-familiar cinematic ploys car chases filmed with dizzying hand-held cameras, high-tech surveillance, a beyond athletic and multi-lingual hero, conspiracies directed by evil villains to new heights. Worn-out movie-violence adversives can appreciate this over-the-top action since it gives the movie a fantastical aspect that’s a welcome relief to the constant barrage of real-life horrors we experience daily via news media. Suspend disbelief (Could even a crash dummy survive a car’s head-first dive over a wall into the pavement below?) and you’ll have a blast. But motion sickness sufferers, be warned.
So, fellow action movie fans, strap in and enjoy the ride.
Good espionage action • R • 111 mins.