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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Be Kind Rewind


Jerry (Jack Black) is a junkyard worker who attempts to sabotage a power plant he suspects of causing his headaches. But he inadvertently causes his brain to become magnetized, leading to the unintentional destruction of all the movies in his friend's (Mos Def) store. In order to keep the store's one loyal customer, an elderly lady with a tenuous grasp on reality, the pair re-create a long line of films including The Lion King, Rush Hour, Ghostbusters, When We Were Kings, Back to the Future, Driving Miss Daisy, and Robocop , putting themselves and their townspeople into it. They become the biggest stars in their neighborhood.


by Drew Hunt

Whimsical director Michel Gondry's latest effort is his most simple to date -- both aesthetically and in terms of story. The French autuer has taken the themes from his 2005 concert doc Dave Chapelle's Block Party and made one of the funniest films so far this year, and while the picture may be thin on plot, the message it delivers is ultimately satisfying as it revolves around a video store that still rents out VHS tapes.

The stores owner, Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover), stands by his old-fashioned ways even as city developers threaten to demolish the run-down building in which his store is located. Despite Fletcher's vehement pleas and assertions that the building is in fact the birthplace of the movie's presiding deity, stride pianist Fats Waller, his store will be re-located to the Jersey projects unless he can accrue the necessary $60,000 to pay for the building's renovation.

Enter Mike and Jerry, played respectively by Mos Def and Jack Black. Jerry, a mechanic living in a trailer next to a power plant, becomes convinced the government is using said power plant to control his brain. After an unsuccessful attempt at sabotage, he becomes magnetized by the plants electrical waves and inadvertently erases every tape in the stores catalog. In order to keep the few patrons they actually have, Mike and Jerry are forced to remake every movie in the store themselves, a process they call "sweding". The duo eventually become local celebrities and phenomena, and suddenly the idea of raising all that money doesn't seem too impossible.

Gondry and the gifted indie cinematographer Ellen Kuras have fun with the amateur versions of the likes of RoboCop, Rush Hour 2, 2001: A Space Odyssey, King Kong and Driving Miss Daisy. The shorts are fun, but unfortunately brief. Aside from a few early examples (including the side-splitting process of remaking Ghostbusters), the sweded shorts are condensed into a couple of technically and stylistically amazing quasi-montages. It is here where fans of Gondry can rejoice in some familiarity: the single take shots are somewhat of a staple in the director's repertoire, and the two he pulls off here are flawless. However, unlike the majority of his work, the creative gadgetry is at a lack. And while that isn't to say the film is missing Gondry's child-like playfulness, the average film geek will find little to geek out over.

Unfortunately, the film is also thin on plot: the conflict the characters face is hard to become vested in, as there rarely seems to be much at stake (despite the looming $60,000 renovation bill). But the cast shines, noteably the effectively low-key Mos Def. His character's earnest nature provides some much needed sympathy and concern for the overall story, though not enough to truly carry the entire flick. Mia Farrow is also enjoyable as the video store's most loyal customer, as is the feisty Melonie Diaz playing Mike and Jerry's female sidekick.

There's plenty here for Frat Pack fans to enjoy, including a quick "cameo" from Matt Walsh of Old School and Starsky and Hutch fame. But the real draw here is Jack Black, who is in true form with what could possibly be his strongest performance to date. His hilarious portrayal as the blue collar shlub Jerry is complete delight, and Gondry has given him enough free reign to provide his character with just the right amount of sass and wit to play off of Mike's sheltered and introverted ethos. Black's bombastic personality is a perfect fit for the film's silly and uplifting tone as he pushes the few strengths of the script to their breaking points. As I said before, fans of Black should make a point not to miss it -- although waiting for the DVD won't lose you any points.

Though the film is strong and straightforward in its message, it loses footing in its lack of drive. Some could argue it a semi-sequel to Block Party, with its comparable themes of the importance of community being the forefront of Gondry's vision. But unlike the sweded movies, the film's story rarely goes far enough, and as it fails to resonate any kind of substantial conflict, there also lacks the visual prowess to make the film enjoyable throughout. Gondry's master plan is to show a community bonding in an effort to create a raw art out of the past and a vision for what's next, but the importance of it isn't nearly stressed enough.

Still, there is plenty here to enjoy. While the story is light, it is still familiar and uplifting. Combined with a semi-ambiguous ending, the overall experience is one of hilarity and warmth. In what could be Gondry's attempt at the "feel good" film, he doesn't fail in making you just that.


Michel Gondry Apple Store Q&A

by Drew Hunt

Apple Store, North Michigan Avenue, Chicago --- Tuesday, January 8th

Michel Gondry appeared at the North Michigan Avenue Apple Store for a Q&A about Be Kind Rewind. I was lucky enough to get to ask him a question, and of course I asked him about Jack. I asked whether or not he wrote the character with JB in mind for the role, or if he was cast and then brought in some of his own flavor.

Gondry said he wrote the first couple drafts of the screenplay without any particular actor in mind, although he did want the character to be kind of dim and aloof, while also witty and funny. Sounds like JB all the way, eh?

So when Gondry heard Jack was interested in the flick, he went full force and more or less casted him on the spot. They then looked over the screenplay and tweaked to Jack's strengths (not unlike what Apatow and crew do). I guess there was also a lot of improv on set, between Jack and Mos Def and some of the other supporting cast. Gondry said the thing he liked most about Jack was his willingness to go as far as he could for the role -- not matter what silly situation Gondry put him in, Jack would approach it very seriously and professionally, a juxtaposition Gondry found to be rare in actors working in Hollywood today. He said he would work again with Jack in a heartbeat.

So based on that, and the clips we saw of the film, Jack Black fans should make a point not to miss this flick. The stuff they showed was hysterical, and the movie just looks great overall. High on the visuals -- typical Gondry. Feb. 22 can't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned.

Michel Gondry with Frat Pack Fan Paul Searle


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