A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 365 – Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind – February 28th, 2011

It’s hard to believe but tomorrow is our one year anniversary, which means that as of today we have watched a full year’s worth of movies. That’s a lot of movies. That’s a lot of good and a lot of bad and a lot of in between. And for me it’s been a lot of movies I’d never seen before and might not otherwise have watched. Tonight’s movie, however, was one that I’d been meaning to watch since it came out. And when thinking about what would make a good movie to mark the end of a year of movie watching this came to mind. After all, it’s not just about movies, but it’s about a lot of movies. It seemed fitting.

As Andy and I have mentioned, we worked at a video store when I was in college. It was a local chain and it was a bit of an idiosyncratic place with hand-written signs and staff members who took breaks to play video games. It was a local institution, with regular customers who came to us because we carried what no one else did. We were the sort of store that would make the effort to respool an entire videocassette onto new reels if it was something out of print and got broken (yes, I did that). So I have a soft spot for a movie that features a tiny little video rental place. It’s my sort of store. And so, when the plot of the movie becomes apparent, and you know that this quirky little video store is in a building scheduled to be torn down in the name of progress, well, I’m a sucker for that too. But of course, that’s just the impetus for what is the point of the movie.

The point of it all is movies. People who love movies. Having fun with movies. Having fun at the movies’ expenses. When a wacky plot device causes Jack Black’s character, Jerry, to become magnetized, he erases all the movies in the store just by being near them. This is absolutely horrific to me. And I say that as someone who might well have applied a strong magnet to a particularly annoying trailer tape when I worked at a certain video store that was not the one mentioned above. Magnets and videocassettes are not friends, kids. And thus we get to the gimmick of the film, which is that Jerry and Mike, played by Mos Def, have to find a way to replace the movies and keep the store open while the owner is away. So they record their own movies. They do fantastic no budget remakes of things like Ghostbusters, using tinsel on fishing rods as the proton streams and things like that. They make Rush Hour 2 with the help of some neighborhood kids and a jungle gym. And people like them. They want more. And they’re willing to pay $20 a pop for them. With the help of Alma (played by Melonie Diaz, whom I have fallen in love with now), who works at a local dry cleaner, they start to make more movies. They sign up new members. They make even shorter movies starring the new members so they can increase production and not lower prices.

There’s a fantastic shot that’s either all one shot or a very well pieces together series of shots where the camera pans around as the group make movie after movie after movie, skipping from set to set to set. It’s hilarious and to really get it all, you have to love movies. You have to know movies. If you do, it’s just flat out amazing. The trouble is that obviously the fun can’t last forever. The boss, played by Danny Glover, comes back and has a plan to switch to DVDs to save the store, then some lawyers show up and say they’ve got a court order to destroy all the tapes and okay, let me pause for a moment here.

Now, while I have no doubt in my mind that studios would be pretty ticked off by a store renting out remakes of their movies, this is not precisely now copyright works. My best guess is that the store’s use of the movies’ plots and characters and so on would end up violating enough to not fall under fair use when it comes to renting such things out (impact on market value is an issue here and I don’t know if the parody part would be enough to cancel it out) but without a court case and arguments about it all could they really seize the tapes and run them over with a steamroller? Really? Seize them, maybe, but they’d be evidence and need to be scrutinized. Copyright law is murky at best and certainly the fair use stuff makes for less than clear cut answers, but man, when Sigourney Weaver’s lawyer character mutters that they’re being made to look like the bad guys, well. There’s a reason for that. They are.

The problem with the movie is that it takes all this fun stuff with the movie parodies and stops it cold as soon as the lawyers show up. There’s all this fun with ketchup being dumped on a fake Carrie’s head and people lining up to get the chance to make their own movie and the neighborhood pulling together in this bizarre way. And then no. The end. No more. And so since that doesn’t really give us any closure, the movie has to keep going, veering off into a completely different direction, towards a documentary about a jazz musician named Fats Waller and the completely falsified history the people in the city of Passaic give him. There are mentions of him in the beginning, and about how he was supposedly born in the building the video store was in. Mike and his boss love him and idolize him and take a lot of pride in their connection to him. But it’s all in the background. In the far background. Because the movie flat out forgets about him for about an hour while Mike and Jerry run around in cheap costumes while Alma directs and films. And then oh hey, we can’t make our parody movies anymore. Let’s make a fake documentary with the whole neighborhood!

The weird thing is, that part is fun too! It’s really amazingly awesome to see this whole neighborhood get together and build sets and props and improvise the hell out of everything. It’s creative and funny and the story is outrageous and everyone seems to have a great time making it. But it’s such a completely different feel from the first section of the movie. And then when everyone gets together to watch the final product the demolition crew shows up to tear down the store and it all feels like it happened very quickly. It’s choppy and weird, but touching at the same time, which I find confusing. Still, overall I really enjoyed the movie. It’s paced oddly but while the parts don’t always fit together well, they’re each great to watch. And while the movie definitely didn’t make me like Jack Black (whom I find horribly irritating much of the time), it made me love Mos Def even more than I already did and it introduced me to Diaz, so I’d say it more than evens out.

February 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

Be Kind Rewind

February 28, 2011

Be Kind Rewind

As of tonight we have watched and reviewed a different movie every day for an entire year. So we figured we’d watch a movie about movies. This was yet another movie I bought sight unseen based only on the preview. I loved both the notion of amateurish movie re-makes and Mos Def and Jack Black and Danny Glover. Even better it is written and directed by the edgy and weird Michel Gondry.

The movie centers on a down-on-its-luck video store in the town of Passaic New Jersey. I loved seeing this little corner video shop – a tiny little independent store that reminded me very much of the little store I used to frequent on Beacon Hill in the eighties. Mike’s Video had a better selection (the store in this film seems to have a lot of empty shelves) but it was the same little one room store with shelves and shelves of video cassettes and a single person behind the counter. Of course this movie is all about a sort of iconic simplification. Gondry has gone out of his way to show that this store, and indeed the entire neighbourhood it exists in, is a little slice of Americana. They don’t even seem to have a computer.

When store owner Mr. Fletcher goes on a one week vacation to celebrate the birthday of his idol Fats Waller he leaves the store in the hands of his enthusiastic but not always too bright employee Mike. He also leaves specific instructions that Mike not let local crazyperson Jerry into the store. Jerry does come into the store, though, and due to some implausible hijinks at a power substation near Jerry’s scrapyard every one of the video tapes in the store gets erased. So the two affable screw-ups have no choice but to re-film the movies themselves. They tell their customers that they have to charge extra for these movies and it will take them a day or so to get each one in because they are special Swedish versions of the films. Within no time at all these “Sweeded” versions of popular movies are an enormous hit with all the locals – not the least because in an attempt to make the movies faster the duo hit upon the idea of allowing the townsfolk to appear in the films.

From there the movie takes some odd turns. There is a lot of charm to the amateur productions of movies done in an afternoon by just a couple guys. Indeed if you enjoy that sort of thing you will probably have a lot of fun like I did checking out all the films linked from the internet Sweeded movie database which is where i spent about an hour after this movie was over. It could easily have been just a movie about the “Sweeded” films. But it’s not really that. This is a movie about community and about people in a run-down town coming together and getting excited about an unlikely project.

Really, that’s the most magical thing about this movie. It has a very amateurish feel to it. It’s strange and comical and offbeat and doesn’t feel like a polished Hollywood film. Apparently this is because it wasn’t a Hollywood film. If you look at the special features on the film you discover that in a meta bit of weirdness this movie about a neighbourhood in Passaic coming together to make a movie was actually something that brought a neighbourhood in Passaic together. Almost all of the extras are local residents. The owner of the junkyard they used for Jerry’s home appears in the movie as a disgruntled customer. The children and teens in the movie are local children and teens. It turns something that could have been just a quirky comedy into something more soulful and more touching. And it shows in the final product.

This movie was not altogether what I was expecting from the previews, but it was heartwarming and entertaining nonetheless. Jack Black plays his usual loudmouthed jackass, but he fits well into the fabric of the movie because that is just the right character for Jerry. Mos Def is charming as his bumbling friend Mike who gets swept up in all Jerry’s schemes but generally knows what’s right and what’s wrong. Danny Glover is fantastic as the somewhat defeated owner of Be Kind Rewind Videos who desperately needs a miracle in his life. I was also pleasantly surprised by the female leads. I had no idea Mia Farrow was in the movie and she’s fantastic as the slightly spacey Miss Falewicz, who appears to be the most loyal customer of the struggling video store. There’s also Melonie Diaz as Alma, a girl who works at a nearby laundromat who ends up being the female lead for Mike and Jerry’s movies. It’s a great role because she gets to be the voice of reason who has to find ways to make this crazy scheme actually work. Almost every other role is played by members of the crew or local townsfolk. Which makes the movie all the more charming and fun.

For the most part Michel Gondry doesn’t utilize his usual vast bag of tricks. It’s a much simpler movie than that. The one exception I can think of is a fantastic montage that depicts the making of a collection of the “Sweeded” films which appears to be a single long take showing the zero budget effects used to make these re-makes. So much of the fun in this movie, and in all the fan submitted “Sweeded” films on the web site, is in the creativity used to bring these special effects from Hollywood to Passaic.

This was a perfect movie to close out the first year of our project. It’s got a love of films and a playfulness to it that is infectious. I know that if I had seen this in High School my friends Jeff, Josh and I would have been out “Sweeding” movies the very next day. Right now I’m trying to think up ways to do Inception on no budget whatsoever. Hmmm.

February 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments