Be Kind Rewind Blu-ray ReviewMarch 08, 2009
It was with trepidation that I recently viewed Be Kind Rewind (2008). While I utterly adore director Michel Gondry's surreal fantasy romance Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), his follow-ups (Dave Chappelle's Block Party, the Science of Sleep) have been letdowns, and the previews for his latest present a story that just looked dumb.
Consider the scenario: Jack Black somehow becomes magnetized and erases all the VHS cassettes in a rental store where Mos Def works, and to amend the problem, the pair re-enact the movies on home video. I saw very little entertainment potential in this but due to positive word of mouth, I gave it a shot. The movie has a wacky charm and many surprisingly clever scenes, but is not of the caliber of Spotless Mind and is ultimately unbalanced with much potential left unfulfilled.
I assumed Be Kind Rewind took place in the 1980's due to the prominence of VHS, but it is actually set in modern day Passaic, NJ, the birthplace of Jazz legend Fats Waller who is involved in the film's other theme. Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover) owns the rental store from which the movie gets its title and is thoroughly stuck in the past trying to stave off the high tech competition offering snazzy DVDs and an enforced relocation handed down by the city to allow his aging store to be replaced with rental properties. Elroy leaves Mike (Mos Def) in charge while he goes to a small annual gathering of Waller fans with the sole instruction to not allow nutcase conspiracy theorist Jerry (Jack Black) into the store.
This setup leads to the core of the movie that is verbatim what I described above from the preview. What makes the absurd premise gel is that the whole town is "in" on the ridiculous joke and is just as eccentric as the main characters. Rather than being put off at the revamped films, they love them and make local celebrities out of Mike and Jerry with lines forming out the door for customers to request their favorite flick be "Sweded" (the made up term for re-filming the movies). A perfect example of this inanity is when the duo realizes that trying to film a romantic scene with only guys is not working, they proposition the woman running a local dry cleaning store. She declines not due to being suspicious or offended, but only because she is obligated to watch the store and happily offers up her sister who does not think twice about joining the filmmakers.
The list of movies that are "Sweded" is fairly impressive including such titles as Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Robocop, 2001, Driving Miss Daisy and the Lion King. There are many preposterously hilarious bits during "filming" that had me laughing till I was near tears, and if Be Kind Rewind could have maintained this level of clever consistency it would have become an instant classic. Sadly this was not to be as Gondry's eclectic script lends towards the unevenness that plagues the film. While well intentioned, the sections about Elroy's rental competition, Fats Waller (including making a biopic) and the town rallying to help save Elroy's building are not nearly as entertaining and suffer in comparison. The movie has a lot of heart and much promise that is sadly not actualized, but the central section with the "Sweded" films almost demands a viewing.
Warner/New Line bestow this Blu-ray release with a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer presented at the theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. This is yet another instance of high-def bringing the best out of the source material but only having so much to work with. Those familiar with Gondry's previous efforts know he utilizes very stylized imagery, and the results here are a washed out image that does not present a lot of "pop" or dazzle but is likely faithful to the director's intentions. On the beneficial side, blacks are rock solid, colors are stable and when utilized for artistic effect, stand out well against the de-saturated textures.
Grain is modest throughout and detail is noticeable when appropriate implying no use of DNR. Unfortunately a good part of the film revolves around making movies with a VHS camera, and these scenes being faithful to their theme do not exactly shine in HD. For what it is worth, this is a good video presentation; just do not expect to be "wowed."
For audio, we get a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that serves up dialog crisp and clear with decent use of ambient effects and several moments of surprising LFE response (especially when Jack Black's character is magnetized). Having only a 5.1 setup, I cannot comment on what the extra two channels would bring to the mix, but the rears were only sporadically utilized so I am not sure how much benefit the extra channels would be. Much like the video presentation, the HD audio does the job but does not come near demo quality. No other audio tracks are offered, but subtitles come in English (SDH) and Spanish.
The extras are all in 480i resolution with DTS stereo sound (the trailer gets DTS 5.1). The standard-def DVD of the film was only given one extra (the Passaic Mosaic featurette) while the Blu-ray gets several but more is not always better. No commentary is provided but I am not sure how interested one would be for the whole film though I could see entertainment value in Gondry, Black and Mos Def commented on the "Sweded" movies. The supplements provided are much like the film with a mix of memorable moments and some lacking focus.
The Making of Be Kind Rewind (33:20) – This definitely does not have your standard promotional fluff feel to it, but on the other hand, it does not necessarily dig that deep into the film's production either. Much of this feels randomly thrown together (maybe this just represents Gondry's style) but has many good moments. All the main actors and many of the background ones, the director of photography and Gondry have snippets of interviews about the writing, acting, photography (use of hand held cams and VHS) and "Sweded" movies. Gondry's accent is so thick there are many moments I could not fully understand him and unfortunately there are no subtitles for this. The highlight of this feature is a hilarious extended take on Boyz in the Hood.
Musical Tribute to Fats Waller (6:06) – An excerpt of a musical performance in Paris with Gondry on drums, Mos Def singing and musical director Jean-Michel Renard on piano. This is a very engaging performance, and I would like to have seen more.
Passaic Mosaic (10:22) – A sampling of the locales in Passaic who make up a good number of extras in the film along with interviews from cast and crew about the city which is on display throughout Be Kind Rewind.
Booker T and the Michel Gondry (6:41) – This is a breakdown of the scene where Fats Waller is commiserated in an abandoned train car. It gives a list of the jazz musicians present in the scene and shows Gondry playing music with them. Interesting for a quick viewing but not that memorable.
Jack Black and Mos Def Improvise "Sweded" Theme Songs (4:58) – The title says it all. The two create renditions of theme songs on the fly, but it feels much more amateurish than the music Mos Def and Gondry made together.
Conversation with Jack Black and Michel Gondry (6:03) – A very laid back conversation between the actor and director with Black being so relaxed as to make you wonder if he took too much cough medicine. Nothing of any depth but enjoyable for a quick watch.
Fats Was Born "Here" (11:28) – The full version of the biopic that concludes the film. Unfortunately it is not nearly as entertaining as the "Sweded" movies and taking it out of the context of the film does not improve it.
Trailer (2:30) – The theatrical trailer in lowly standard-def that makes you appreciate how much better the sampled scenes fare in HD.
Be Kind Rewind does not come close to fulfilling the promise Michel Gondry showed with Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but has enough going for it to suggest a good rental and fans of the director may find it engaging enough for a purchase. The audio/video get the job done without being overly showy and there is a mixed bag of extras that may appeal to fans. I am hoping that Gondry's follow-up, which as of this writing is slated to be the remake of the Green Hornet, will be an improvement, but I can always revisit the "Sweded" sections for some good laughs.
- Robert Searle
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Be Kind Rewind
June 10, 2008
7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio