Sunday, February 24, 2008


The Plot: Having accidentally been magnetized after attempting to sabotage a nearby power plant, Jerry (Jack Black) unknowingly erases all of the videotapes in the local Be Kind, Rewind movie rental establishment. With the store's owner out of town, Jerry and Mike (Mos Def) do the only thing that they can think of to keep the business running smoothly: they begin recording (or "sweding") their own versions of the erased movies on the blank videocassettes. Before long their sweded films become more popular among the local movie-renting community than the original films themselves, but their success is put into jeopardy when some angry film studio executives arrive on the scene.

The Review: In the past I haven't been a big fan of director Michel Gondry's work. The two films of his which I had seen before were Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, neither of which I particularly loved. Yet when I saw the trailer for Be Kind, Rewind, I was immediately interested. There's just something about the idea of a couple of guys remaking classic films in next to no time with no budget that intrigued me. With the addition of the actors involved, I could hardly wait to see this film.

Perhaps the single thing that I was most excited to see in Be Kind, Rewind was Jack Black's performance. My interest in and appreciation of Black have risen and fallen a lot over time. His involvement in Mr. Show and his band Tenacious D's first album, for example, really caught my eye (or ear) and appealed to me. Over the years he has seemed to fall into a repetitious spiral though, constantly playing the same types of characters, being involved in the same types of movies, and in the case of his film Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, straight up rehashing old material for the big screen. With Be Kind, Rewind however, it appeared that he may finally be stepping out of his loud, obnoxious, rock music-loving mold and into a different type of character, and luckily that is exactly what he did. For the first time in quite a while I felt that Black's performance was fresh and interesting, and he was different enough from his past stereotypical characters that I didn't feel like I was just watching Jack Black play Jack Black yet again. It was nice to have him make me laugh without resorting to his usual bag of tricks.

In the case of Mos Def, while I wasn't immediately sure about his ability to pull off a comical role in Be Kind, Rewind, he surprised me as Mike, the video store clerk. In his past performances in 16 Blocks and The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as well as The Italian Job (to an extent), Mos Def proved that he could act, but he created a great yin to Jack Black's comedic yang in this film. Never really stepping outside of a sort of shy, nervous character portrayal, Mos Def is able to make the audience laugh just by being a normal guy instead of playing his role too over-the-top and ludicrous. In a bit of a background role, Danny Glover provides a few humorous moments just based on the fact that he's Danny Glover, but aside from him the only other actors in Be Kind, Rewind that deliver on the film's humor quota are Jack Black and Mos Def. Any other really comedic moments are courtesy of director Michel Gondry's slightly skewed way of telling a story.

While, as I mentioned previously, I'm not historically Michel Gondry's biggest supporter, one thing that I have never denied is that the man is remarkably inventive and has a great visual style. His knack for creating some of the best CG-free visual effects in use today is the one thing that I've always liked about his work, and also the one thing about his directorial style that I thought Be Kind, Rewind would be greatly lacking. Based on the footage I had seen prior to watching the movie, along with what I knew about the story, which is admittedly a good bit more down to Earth than some of his previous ventures, I didn't expect to see Gondry employ many of his signature dream-like visuals. Such was not the case though, as many of the "effects" in the film, especially those during the scenes in which Mike and Jerry were recording their own videos, are beautifully achieved with the ingenuity and low budget indie-sensibilities that Gondry has come to be known for. In fact, considering that the characters in the movie are amateurs when it comes to shooting films, many of the hands-on effects are portrayed in a rather exploitative way, allowing the viewer to fully understand what they are looking at more than is usually the case in a Gondry-helmed feature.

The hold-ups of Be Kind, Rewind, while indeed present, are few and slight, not really effecting the overall enjoyable experience of watching the movie to any great degree. Perhaps my biggest problem with Be Kind, Rewind is the base motivation behind the plot. Danny Glover's video store has two months to earn $60,000 for repairs before it is demolished to make way for newer, more streamlined architecture to take it's place. The "underdog who has to earn a seemingly unachievable amount of money by a deadline which they will inevitably make by the skin of their chinny-chin-chin to save something close to his/her/their heart" story is one of the most played-out in all of Hollywood. Even so, while this flaw was on my mind throughout the entire running time, I couldn't help but feel that by placing itself within the boundaries of this obvious stereotype, Be Kind, Rewind was making a "wink and a nod" comment about the stereotype itself in doing so. If such is the case though, Michel Gondry and company never specifically made this fact known. The other small problem plaguing the film is how easily every problem posed to the characters tended to resolve itself. With it's lighthearted approach to the subject matter, Be Kind, Rewind felt a bit more like a fairy tale than any other known genre anyway. This is proven more and more as the movie goes on when every problem is met with an unrealistically simple and easily-met solution, but given the overall feel of the film, this is not a fact that I would readily hold against it.

The Verdict: Be Kind, Rewind has plenty of laughs, heartfelt moments, and examples of interesting, inventive filmmaking to satisfy just about any movie-goer. Great, spot-on, and, in some cases, wholly original performances fill the cast of characters and an uncontrollable feeling of nostalgia for anyone who grew up watching video tapes is inevitable. While I didn't leave the theater after watching it with the same feeling of immediate adoration for what I'd just seen as I have after some other recent viewings, Be Kind, Rewind is an easy movie to recommend to just about anyone.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

WIBW @ The Movies: JUMPER

The Plot: Based upon the first in a series of science fiction novels by author Steven Gould, Jumper follows a young man named David Rice, who, after a harrowing experience in his youth, discovers that he has the ability to teleport from place to place just by thinking about it. After years of living the secret life of a superhuman, which has brought him considerable wealth and loneliness, David attempts to reconnect with his high school crush only to be tracked down by a man named Roland who belongs to an underground society of people known as Paladins. Just as David discovers that there are other people out there with the same unusual gift as him, he also discovers that the Paladins are intent on ridding the world of David and his kind, whom they refer to as "Jumpers".

The Review: While I thought that the commercials and trailers for Jumper made it look like an incredibly entertaining movie, I will admit that in the week or so leading up to the release of the film I was beginning to question just how good it would be based on the massive array of bad reviews I'd seen and heard about it online. Much to my pleasant surprise, my initial instincts proved correct, and I found myself exiting the theater after watching Jumper having just enjoyed the hell out of what I'd seen. Jumper isn't Shakespeare (or perhaps more appropriately Asimov, Clark, or Dick), but it is an eye-pleasing, fun movie with a hell of a lot of original and entertaining ideas.

Where to begin? You know the scene in the White House that opens X-Men 2 featuring Nightcrawler teleporting all over the place? Remember how damn cool that scene was? Well stretch that incredible sequence out into a full length movie and you've essentially got the backbone of Jumper. The idea of teleportation is certainly nothing new, but what the writers/director of Jumper have done is to plant the seed of this age old science fiction concept and allow it's roots to grow, following them in all sorts of new directions that no one has ever touched on before. I don't want to say too much about the specifics of Hayden Christensen's character's abilities and the way that Sam Jackson's character combats them, but suffice to say that every time a new sci-fi rich aspect of the plot involving teleportation was introduced, I, as a massive fan of crazy, out there ideas, could hardly stop myself from grinning with delight at each of the intelligent, provocative instances being placed in front of me onscreen. The way that the teleportation in the film works is a fresh take on a tired idea to say the least. The weapons that the Paladins use against the Jumpers are insanely cool and unconventional. The best of all though? "The machine". When this device makes it's first true appearance toward the climax of the film the plot seemed to reach a whole new level of excitement and cleverness as multiple new possibilities were introduced. Not to mention, beyond the pure nerd-fodder of Jumper, it included a lot of great exposition on what it would be like to live the life of someone empowered by an inhuman gift. Just as the Spiderman films tend to dwell on the responsibilities and hardships of the life of a superhuman, Jumper offers several examples of what the upsides of such a situation might be. It was an incredibly gratifying feeling watching a movie about super powers that wasn't strictly a vehicle for heroics and a do-gooder mentality.

My biggest concern going into Jumper was that, like many action films these days (including most superhero films), the action sequences which provide the most compelling reason for stepping foot into the theater to see one of them would be shot in a confusing manner. Coming off of The Bourne Identity, a film series known for it's quick cutting action shots and shaky, handheld camera work, Doug Liman, while having made multiple films that I enjoy, was the trump card on this occasion. Fortunately, unlike the majority of the action fare out there these days, every moment of Jumper was as clear and concise as could be both during and between the fight/chase scenes with excellent accompanying special effects around every turn. Another possible fault of the film going in was the casting of Hayden Christensen. Having quite disliked his performance in the second and third Star Wars prequels as Anakin Skywalker, I wasn't sure that he would be able to carry Jumper as the the film's main character. Thankfully, he seems to be able to handle himself quite well in front of the camera when he's not sporting long braids and discussing the force. Along with Christensen, Sam Jackson lights up the screen, snow white hair and all, as the evil Roland. Jackson really impressed me in Jumper by not succumbing to the urge to rely on the current popularity of the man behind the character in fleshing out his role. Sam is such an icon these days that it's hard not to just see the celebrity onscreen instead of whoever he's playing (such as was the case with Snakes on a Plane, among others), but he really seemed to lose himself in his role in Jumper, creating a great villain that I would be glad to see revisited again and again. Playing Griffin, the film's other Jumper, Jamie Bell was another great choice for this movie. Finally, while she was certainly the least impressive of the core cast, Rachel Bilson delivered a passable performance as the love interest of Hayden's David.

The Verdict: Try as I may, I just cannot think of anything bad to say about Jumper. Science fiction and action have been rather strange bedfellows in way too many films in the past, but here they fit seamlessly together to form a smart, original, intriguing, and overall enjoyable movie-going experience. A superhero movie without any real "heroes" to speak of, Jumper bends multiple genres into a new aesthetically pleasing shape that was as welcome and refreshing to me among the sea of recent sub-par-to-horrible sci-fi action films as a bottle of water surely is to a man lost in the desert.