Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BE KIND, REWIND - a love letter to VHS

BE KIND REWIND is the first of two movies starring Danny Glover as an old man forced to adapt to modernity. In this film he owns a crusty video shop in New Jersey. The building is so decrepit that the local council is going to demolish it to put up some shiny new condominiums. And in the age of DVD blockbusters, all Mr Fletcher's customers are leaving him for his rival West Coast Video. Glover plays Mr Fletcher as hardened to life's knocks. He faces up to reality, decides to move his stock to DVD and, if all else fails, to grit his teeth and move to the Projects. Against Mr Fletcher's realism we have the delightful optimism of Jack Black, Mos Def and Melonie Diaz, aka Jeff, Mike and Alma. These three goofballs decide to replace the videos that Mike has accidentally magentised with a bunch of home-made 20-minute "homages"/spoofs or "Swedes". These movies become super-popular with the customers, tired of homogenised Hollywood fare. Audiences delight in their shared experience of classic movies - the scenes we all know by heart - and finally start taking part themselves. Of course, the Feds stomp on the vids for copyright infringement, but not before one final hurrah - a movie about Jazz piano legend Fats Waller. Never mind that Waller didn't actually grow up in Passaic, NJ. That's the joy of shared memory and experience - we own it, and we can change it!

The first hour of this movie shows us the machinations of how all the video tapes got wiped. It's a pretty convoluted tale and has none of the honest simplicity of the similarly themed movie, SON OF RAMBOW: A HOME MOVIE. The movie only really feels like it lifts off in the second half hour, when the gang starts making the flicks. Cinephiles will take sheer delight in seeing those childhood movies recreated. As Michel Gondry proved in last year's outstanding THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, he is the king of things to make and do. I also love the theme of the flick - far better to go out and do stuff yourself - gonzo-style - than be the passive recipient of other people's dreams.

You can't deny that the movie has a lot of heart. And I always find that Jack Black is more funny when restrained by a strong ensemble cast and director - so I prefer him here to, say, NACHO LIBRE. Mos Def is charming, and it's great to see Melonie Diaz (who's been consistently impressive since RAISING VICTOR VARGAS) get a proper starring role too.

My only real criticism is that BE KIND REWIND takes too long to get to the good stuff, and that everything about how we get to the Sweded films seems hopelessly contrived. If you like this film, I strongly recommend you check out SON OF RAMBOW to see how the same light-hearted material can be grounded in something real and, therefore, all the more emotionally engaging.

BE KIND, REWIND played Sundance and Berlin 2008. It opens in the US and UK today. It opens in March in France, Israel, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Singapore, Finland, Turkey and Russia. It opens in April in Spain, Sweden and Argentina. It opens on May 8th in the Netherlands.

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