Judge Dan Mancini is old enough to remember rewinding. Now get off his lawn, you whippersnappers!
Our review of Be Kind Rewind, published June 17th, 2008, is also available.
"We did it! Because we're Ghostbusters."—Jerry
Director Michel Gondry's paean to community and the artistic impulse takes its bow on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
After a failed attempt to sabotage a local power plant magnetizes curmudgeonly idiot Jerry (Jack Black, High Fidelity), his body erases all of the VHS tapes in Elroy Fletcher's (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon) hopelessly-behind-the-times video store. Unfortunately, this occurs while Jerry's affably idiotic friend Mike (Mos Def, The Italian Job ) is minding the store in Mr. Fletcher's absence. When regular customer Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow, Rosemary's Baby) insists on renting Ghostbusters, the boys hatch a scheme to reshoot the movie with a consumer-grade video camera and hope she doesn't notice. In an attempt to keep Mr. Fletcher's customers happy, they soon find themselves producing "Sweded" versions of Rush Hour 2, The Lion King, Robocop, Driving Miss Daisy, King Kong (the 1933 version, of course), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Men in Black and a host of other Hollywood favorites with their new leading lady, Alma (Melonie Diaz, Lords of Dogtown).
In an unexpected turn of events, the boys' movies become enormously popular in their close-knit Passaic, New Jersey community—so popular that everyone prefers the Sweded versions of movies to their Hollywood originals. But when Hollywood cracks down on Jerry and Mike's freelancing and the duo learns that Mr. Fletcher's store is in danger of being shut down and the building demolished, they decide to prove their artistic mettle and the store's value as a historical landmark by making "Fats was Born 'Here'," an original film about jazz legend and Passaic hero Fats Waller.
Be Kind Rewind is Dumb and Dumber filtered through the fabulist art-house sensibilities of director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It's a love letter to do-it-yourself creativity in general and movie-making in particular. And it's a nostalgic look backwards at a time before technology replaced real community with the virtual variety.
The idea of the people of Passaic, New Jersey becoming addicted to a couple local boys' ramshackle remakes of big-budget Hollywood movies may sound entirely ridiculous (no, it is entirely ridiculous), but the scenes in which Jerry and Mike shoot their movies are Be Kind Rewind's best. By showing us how the lame-brained duo use red and green garland to replicate the energy streams from the Ghostbusters' proton packs, or create a forced perspective shot using a cheap cardboard model of a building, an actress, and an ape suit for their Sweded King Kong, Gondry manages to strip away the high sheen of Hollywood classics and reveal the soul underneath—the very thing that made so many of us fall in love with the movies in the first place. In the process, he also makes it oddly believable that the good people of Passaic might prefer the local versions of these modern myths to the studio-financed originals.
Gondry's cast is uniformly solid, if sometimes under-utilized. Jack Black is Jack Black, which is to say high-energy, funny, and displaying that perpetual impish gleam in his eye. Mos Def—who has quietly established himself as an excellent actor throughout his varied career—is the anchor of the picture, delivering a performance far more subtle, complex, and sympathetic than Black's (this is no slam on Black—in true buddy comedy style, Mos Def plays the everyman with whom we are meant to relate, while Black is the wacky friend who is catalyst to all the outrageous hijinks). Danny Glover is appropriately avuncular, though the subplot involving the potential demolition of his video store arrives so late in the film that Glover's Mr. Fletcher seems almost unnecessary. Mia Farrow is memorably Mia Farrow-like, fussy and stammering, but her appearance isn't much more than a cameo.
If Mos Def weren't the star of the picture (and he is, despite Jack Black's top billing), then Passaic, New Jersey would be. That Gondry chose to shoot on location and flesh out his cast with locals gives Be Kind Rewind a realistic texture that stands in welcome contrast to its fabulist plot and reinforces the director's theme of community as a crucible for authentic artistic expression.
New Line delivers Be Kind Rewind on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc with video mastered in the VC-1 codec at 1080p resolution and presented at the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. If you like transfers that accurately reproduce the original source with a minimum of monkey business, you'll love what you find on here. If you're only pleased with an image designed to wow potential customers on the floor at Best Buy or Circuit City—a perfectly smooth picture with startlingly sharp detail (even if a lot of digital processing is used to achieve that sharpness), then you may be (slightly) disappointed. Colors are accurate and deeply saturated; blacks are inky, and whites bright. Detail is excellent—a significant improvement over the DVD—minus the sort of eye-popping clarity on some Blu-ray releases. On the other hand, you won't find any digital artifacts whatsoever. All in all, the image looks like an incredibly pristine and stable celluloid print of the film. That's what all Blu-rays should look like.
Audio comes in only one flavor, but it's an awfully good flavor: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround. Be Kind Rewind isn't the sort of movie with thundering LFE and dynamic use of directional panning, but the lossless audio on the disc reproduces dialogue perfectly and presents the film's score in the best possible light.
Not only does the Blu-ray edition of Be Kind Rewind look and sound superb, it also makes partial amends for the dearth of supplements on the standard DVD, which contains only a theatrical trailer and a 10-minute featurette called "Passaic Mosaic." Both of those extras are included on this release. There are also three additional featurettes, each running five to seven minutes in length: "Booker T & the Michel Gondry," "Jack & Mos Improvise Songs," and "A Conversation with Jack Black and Michel Gondry." A half-hour making-of documentary provides a glimpse of the film's production. Finally, Mike and Jerry's Fats Waller short film, "Fats was Born 'Here'," is presented in its entirety (it runs 12 minutes in length). "Passaic Mosaic" and "Fats was Born 'Here'" are charming little supplements, sure to entertain; the making-of documentary is solidly made and informative if nowhere near definitive; and the interview with Black and Gondry is amusing. The other extras are disposable. You won't be blown away by the number and quality of the supplements, but they're a definite improvement over the nearly barebones DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the noble efforts of Gondry, Black, and Mos Def, Be Kind Rewind feels half-baked. The movie's big heart, fascinating ideas, and precocious technical beauty too often fall victim to the genre formulas with which Gondry plays. As in the buddy comedies Gondry mimics and parodies, Jerry and Mike frequently behave according to the dictates of cliché rather than real human motivation. They are cartoon goofs facing cartoon problems. Their adventures are charming and amusing (though rarely out-and-out funny), but the emotional stakes seem lower than they should considering the sentimentality with which Gondry tips his hat to DIY artistic expression.
Be Kind Rewind is long on charm and technical expertise. Unfortunately, Gondry and crew didn't quite find that sweet spot between earnest genre piece and arch art-house metagenre. The movie fails, but does so with a maximum of style. It's certainly worth a look (especially for movie buffs), but you may want to rent instead of buy.
Whatever its cinematic misdemeanors, Be Kind Rewind's heart is in the right place. This court finds it not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• "Passaic Mosaic"
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