New reviews: ‘Be Kind Rewind’ and ‘The Signal’

The increasingly scruffy cinema of Michel Gondry dives deeper into the junkyard of creativity with Be Kind Rewind, a whimsical comedy about a pair of buddies (Jack Black and Mos Def) who decide to shoot their own scrappy versions of Hollywood films.

be_kind_rewind_poster.jpgJack Black gets electrified in a guerrilla attack on the local power plant, one of the film’s sequences less like an improv skit than a live-action cartoon, and winds up demagnetizing all the tapes in the relic of video store and second-hand shop. Their stock isn’t all that up-to-date, which no one seems to mind, and they really haven’t figured out that the DVD revolution has made them obsolete.

Gondry’s film lives in the corners of such obsolescence as it embraces a community that has practically fallen out of time. And that sense of community comes alive as a cult underground video community grows around these guerrilla remakes, or “Sweded” versions, as they call their process (unregistered trademark).

Gondry’s script is haphazard, to be sure. One pointed scene, where store owner Danny Glover talks about streamlining his selection according to modern business plans (“Two sections: comedy and action”) and Mos Def’s character bemoans the loss of the character and variety of their selection, rings false considering what we actually see on the shelves. There are none of the silent films or classics that we’re told must go, merely a generic selection of Hollywood releases of the past 15 or so years.

But their zero-budget filmmaking, turning spare parts into costumes and props and making it into a kind of folk art spin on Hollywood gloss, is obviously near and dear to Gondry’s heart. It’s an amateur version of his own preferred style and their fictional flurry of on-the-fly productions seems to have guided his real-life production, at least to some extent. The scenes have a looseness, as if the performers are feeling their way through them and sparring with their co-stars. Which means some of the scenes tend to ramble at times, and Gondry’s camera is given to wandering for no apparent reason. Not too much, but enough to let you know that this isn’t your usual Hollywood film.

I review the film for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

These aren’t late-night comedy sketch-style spoofs but home-movies cobbled together with junkyard props, thrift-store costumes and a second-hand home video camera, directed by adults with the spirit of imaginative kids.

Gondry shows a real affection for their zero-budget videos (which could be an amateur version of Gondry’s own aesthetic) and the unabashed joy that the neighborhood gets out of their participation in community-based filmmaking is marvelous. It only feels forced when Gondry leaves his zig-zaggy storytelling for a staged Hollywood ending. It’s sweet but contrived.

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Read the complete review here.

You can “Swede” yourself in a movie at the film’s official site here.

And you can see Michel Gondry’s own “Sweded” version of the trailer (playing all the parts himself) on YoutTube here.

I also review the The Signal, a high-concept, low-budget sci-fi thriller of three intertwined stories which all spring from the same contaminated wellspring of everything from “Night of the Living Dead” to “28 Days Later” to David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome.” Other critics seem to like it better than I did. I found it derivative and its metaphors confused.signal-poster-big.jpg

TV really does rot your mind in the sci-fi thriller “The Signal,” a trilogy of interconnected stories in a world gone wild.

On New Year’s Eve in the vaguely metaphorical city of Terminus, cable and phone service suddenly goes on the fritz and the population goes crazy.

There’s no explanation offered, but it’s as if the constant media noise of TV, cell phones and radio (how did the filmmakers manage to forget the Internet?) slips its audience a computer virus for the mind. Everyone exposed to the signal loses their emotional firewalls and acts on their most suppressed feelings of aggression, jealousy, frustration, and rage. Even those few hanging on to their last threads of restraint and sanity while fighting off crazed, signal-infected psychos become susceptible to suggestion and hallucination.

In my view, it plays like

… another low-budget effort from filmmakers who mistake cleverness for smarts. Even their metaphor of alienation through media overexposure becomes confused when one character escapes the carnage and craziness simply by cranking up her Walkman. It’s evocative as the irrational act of an overwhelmed victim, but when it’s offered as an act of salvation without a trace of irony, it becomes just another mixed signal.

Read the complete review here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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