Knight at the Movies - Archives
Director Michel Gondry delivers the first great film of 2008, Pete Travis delivers something quite a bit less but fun nevertheless
The first great movie of 2008 is here and ironically it’s about the unforgettable impact movies have on all of us. Be Kind Rewind
is not just movie crazy – a plus for anyone who shares a similar passion – its story and characters are also daffy and writer-director
Michel Gondry works from an irresistible viewpoint that is both innocent and effervescent. This is a movie for mad, hopeless
dreamers tilting at windmills and carrying signs in front of bulldozers not just to stop progress but also because they perceive plenty
of life remaining in the shabby and out of fashion if given a chance to endure (this also describes a lot of movies that get unfairly
overlooked). Be Kind Rewind is nostalgic and endearing and it’s also funny as hell – a supremely blissful movie going experience.
Gondry’s setting has the scruffy charm of two signature Norman Lear sitcoms from the 1970s – “Chico & the Man” and “Sanford &
Son” – and given the premise this isn’t surprising. Two simpletons in a rundown area of Passaic, New Jersey – Jerry (Jack Black) and
Mike (Mos Def) – are good friends who endlessly pick at each other in the manner of their TV forebears. Feisty, wild eyed Jerry lives
in a camper in the junkyard where he works, just across the street from the video store where Mike tends customers for Mr. Fletcher
(Danny Glover). Jerry is one of those maniacal conspiracy nuts who is always jabbering away while Mike seems barely able to put two
words together. The duo seems like a modern day update on Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton of “The Honeymooners.”
When the taciturn Mr. Fletcher is told that the building which houses the failing video store is to be condemned instead of giving in
he sets out to explore ways to improve his business by checking out his competition. He leaves Mike in charge and warns him to
keep Jerry, who he doesn’t trust, out of the store. During a failed sabotage attempt on the nearby electrical plant (which he’s
convinced is melting his brain) Jerry becomes accidentally magnetized and the next day accidentally erases all the vhs tapes in the
store (DVD has yet to come to Mr. Fletcher’s). In order to keep their few loyal customers happy, including the dotty Mrs. Falewicz
(Mia Farrow), Jerry and Mike re-create mini versions of Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, The Lion King, Driving Miss Daisy, Robocop, and other
movies, enlisting Alma (Melonie Diaz), to come on board as the love interest. Eventually the newfound popularity of the one-of-a-
kind recreations alerts the authorities who charge the trio with copyright infringement.
In one last ditch attempt to save the store, Jerry, Mike and Alma decide to film an original story – the life of Fats Waller the great
jazz musician who Mr. Fletcher has told them once lived in the building. The recreations have been wildly inventive up to this point
(The Lion King “animation” is a highlight) but when movie fever overtakes the whole neighborhood during the making of the Waller
movie it goes into hyper-drive making the scene in which the locals gather to watch their little masterpiece almost unbearably
bittersweet. Scored to a forlorn solo piano piece called “Solitude” (written by Jean-Michel Bernard, who also scored Gondry’s last
film), the sequence is almost as powerful as the final moments of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Gondry’s valentine to the movies is aided enormously by his diverse cast – especially Black whose exuberant, comic mugging as
Jerry could easily have overwhelmed the others (particularly Def who gets sneaky laughs as Black’s straight man). The quiet
authority of Glover, the spacey Farrow and the spunkiness of Diaz are also standouts while Gondry’s script pulls off the neat trick of
being nearly epithet-free – a refreshing rarity in a modern day urban comedy.
Unlike previous Gondry films, the imaginative The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind may at last
push the writer-director into the mainstream. Just as original in its own way as those two offbeat indie efforts, Be Kind’s simplicity
gives it an edge as does its subject matter. Sleep deprivation and memory loss (the subjects of Science of Sleep and Eternal
Sunshine) are filled with complexity while the visceral impact that movies – even not very good ones – can have on receptive
audiences is so simple and tantalizing that even everyday dreamers like Jerry and Mike understand it.
To fall for Vantage Point, a political thriller in which the assassination of the President (played by William Hurt) is told from
multiple viewpoints, you have to throw away any connection to reality. Nothing in it is faintly plausible – from the CNN-like reporter
espousing her own political views on-camera to Forrest Whitaker as a camcorder wielding tourist chasing after a group of terrorists to
the little girl with the ice cream cone to the sweaty hotel busboy to Dennis Quaid and “Lost’s” Matthew Fox as handsome but flawed
Secret Service agents. Not to mention the fact that the main action (set in Spain) places the U.S. President on an outdoor stage in
broad daylight in a courtyard ringed by windowed buildings in front of screaming hordes – a scenario that, given our current standing
worldwide, is highly unlikely to occur for years to come.
The gimmick of the movie, as stated, is in the Rashomon and Run, Lola, Run style which recaps the 20 minutes or so following the
President’s murder many, many times (it might have been as many as eight – I lost count). Each time, more clues to who really
killed the President, who planted the bomb, etc., are revealed and as the pretzel logic of the plots get intertwined the movie, too,
gets backed into a corner. But if you decide to toss out reason and plausibility Vantage Point is an entertaining, shamelessly good
time (with one of those kick ass car chases to boot). And there’s a great bonus for gay audiences – the terrorists are some of the
most beautiful men you’re likely to see outside of a circuit party (and the lone female isn’t bad either).
Be Kind Rewind-Vantage Point
Expanded Edition of 2-20-08 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.