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:

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