Talking Movies

April 25, 2018

From the Archives: Be Kind Rewind

Another deep dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds what is the only Mos Def/Yasiin Bey movie I ever reviewed!

The trailer promises a wacky Jack Black comedy but this is really an exercise in whimsy with occasional moments of laugh out loud comedy. Maverick director Michel Gondry, after two films with the equally eccentric (and severely over-rated) screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, is now penning his own scripts. But his wafer-thin characterisation sees him relying far too heavily on the charisma of his leading men to carry the material. If you don’t like Jack Black or Mos Def then avoid this film, or go, but thank heaven for Danny Glover who lends gravitas as Mr Fletcher. Fletcher is the Fats Waller worshipping owner of the titular video store, named after a Waller song and housed in the building where Fats was born, which is now so decrepit that adopted son Mike (Mos Def) might demolish it by slamming a door. The store survives because of the number of stubborn/deranged people in the neighbourhood who refuse to switch to DVD. Mike is left in charge while Mr Fletcher investigates whether switching to DVD is the only way of raising enough money for repairs before a council demolition deadline

Enter disaster in the shape of Jerry (Jack Black), Mike’s best friend, who talks him into an attempt at sabotaging the local power plant (a sequence featuring a sublime visual gag) which leaves Jerry magnetised and thus all the store’s videotapes erased. Mr Fletcher’s best friend Ms Falewicz (Mia Farrow) demands Ghostbusters and Mike and Jerry, with no time to hunt down a replacement VHS copy, decide to make their own version with a camcorder, hilariously no-budget special effects, and Mike as Bill Murray…with Jerry as everyone else. This leads to crowds of new customers with requests for films that they want Mike, Jerry and leading lady (and drycleaner) Lorna to ‘Swede’ for them. Deeply demented versions of Driving Miss Daisy and Rush Hour 2 emerge and soon half the neighbourhood are joyously taking roles in the ‘Sweded’ films.

Be Kind Rewind is visually disappointing when set aside the quirkiness of Michel Gondry’s music videos and his best film to date Eternal Sunshine. Indeed the highlight of the film comes when he stops being restrained and indulges in some of his trademark in-camera special effects, using his long held patent on ‘how’d they do that?!’ trickery. The dazzling and hilarious long take in which Jack Black and Mos Def re-enact scenes from classic movies (including 2001: A Space Odyssey) using insanely inventive no-budget special effects is itself shot in an insanely inventive low-budget way. (Somewhere a post-modernist just got his wings). Oddly enough, like Cloverfield, the usual sentimental cliches of movie logic do not apply in this universe. The unexpectedly realistic ending means that Be Kind Rewind works best as a love-note to film-making and audience participation rather than as pure comedy.

3/5

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March 21, 2016

Mo Names, Mo Problems

THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Mos Def, 2005, (c) Touchstone

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Mos Def, 2005, (c) Touchstone

INT. THE FREGOLI HOTEL BALLROOM, LOS ANGELES-NIGHT

 

TITLE: SPRING 2015

 

DANNY McBRIDE, SETH ROGEN, EVAN GOLDBERG, and DAVID GORDON GREEN are sneaking outside, with questionable tobacco products hanging out of their pockets. As they approach the French windows Green veers off to one side to scoop up another glass of champagne from a table. The others continue on. Green then sees an entire tray of cocktail sausages being neglected. As he munches his way through the sausages a man on the far side of the ballroom observes him. MOS DEF, for it is he, stops talking to KANYE, squints at Green, and then roars across the ballroom.

 

MOS DEF: D.G.!

DG GREEN: (choking on cocktail sausage) Mos!!

MOS DEF: (looking annoyed, oblivious to Green’s choking noises) It’s not Mos.

DG GREEN: (coughs up half a sausage into his glass) It’s not?

MOS DEF: No, man, it’s not been Mos for three years and counting.

DG GREEN: Oh!

MOS DEF: DG, man, what exactly do I have to do to get a meeting with you?

DG GREEN: Huh?

MOS DEF: I tried like hell to get Our Brand is Crisis!

DG GREEN: You did?

MOS DEF: Uh, Yeah! I musta called your office a hundred times!

DG GREEN: I don’t remember that.

MOS DEF: Well, then you need a new secretary.

DG GREEN: What?! No way, no way! Janelle’s incredibly efficient. Delaney vouched for her. Well, I mean Delaney’s secretary Janine vouched for her.

MOS DEF: Well, if she ain’t telling you Yasiin Bey on the line then she ain’t that efficient.

DG GREEN: Yasiin Bey?

MOS DEF: Yeah, Yasiin Bey. As opposed to Mos Def, which I’ve not been using as a name for three years and counting, like I said earlier.

 

CLOSE ON: David Gordon Green’s pupils dilate.

 

INT. GREEN’S PRODUCTION OFFICE, LOS ANGELES-DAY

 

The camera observes JANELLE at her desk on one side of the split-screen, and on the other half DG GREEN at his desk, scribbling on storyboards, which he throws away in frustration when his phone rings. He punches the button for speakerphone.

 

TITLE: 5 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: A Yasiin Bey is on line 1.

DG GREEN: Don’t know him. (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 4 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again, he really wants to talk about the role of Ben.

DG GREEN: That’s nice. (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 3 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again. He wants to know if you have time for a lunch at The Fregoli, he has some great ideas for the role of Ben he wants to run past you.

DG GREEN: (stunned, then outraged) Who … the hell does this guy think he is?! (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 2 MONTHS BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again, sir. He says he’ll give you a soundtrack song for free if you just give him a chance to audition like anyone else.

DG GREEN: Well now we’re finally getting somewhere! He can have a chance to audition like anyone else because he is anyone else. Does he have an agent? Delaney? (hangs up)

 

TITLE: 1 MONTH BEFORE PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

 

JANELLE: Yasiin Bey on line 1 again, sir, and, sir, Janine connected him to me.

DG GREEN: Oh! (reflects for a moment) It’s going to have to wait. I’m meeting Anthony Mackie in a half an hour. I don’t have time for any new people right now. (hangs up)

 

INT. THE FREGOLI HOTEL BALLROOM, LOS ANGELES-NIGHT

MOS DEF: Yo! DG! Anybody in there? You’re doing that thing with your eyes from Fantastic Mr Fox. Some kind of memory bells ringing?

DG GREEN: (stops doing that thing with his eyes) No…

MOS DEF: Well… So much for that.

DG GREEN: Yeah, sorry man. (turns to scoop the soggy half sausage out of his glass and eat it without Mos seeing) … … So, uh, Yasiin Bey?

MOS DEF: Yeah.

DG GREEN: Why?

MOS DEF: What do you mean why?

DG GREEN: Why the change of name? Did you convert to Islam?

MOS DEF: Did I convert to Islam?! Yeah, DG, I did convert to Islam. Twenty-sumpn’ years ago!

DG GREEN: Oh.

MOS DEF: You are unbelievable. Do you ask Snoop that every time he changes his name?

DG GREEN: Well he never changes it very much. If you’re not called Mos Def anymore, how will people know who you are?

MOS DEF: How will… How will people know who I am?! Do you recognise me, standing here in front of you, talking to you? I ain’t changed into a different person! Do you think nobody knew who Muhammad Ali was when he changed his name? All that’s different is I got a name now that reflects who I am now. (several beats) You’re doing that thing with your eyes again, man.

DG GREEN: Sorry I was just thinking about Snoop calling himself something reflecting who he is. Snoop M-Jane. Like a play on the Beach Boys song–

MOS DEF: I got the ‘Sloop John B’ namecheck, thank you, and you got Snoop on the brain.

GREEN: You’re the one who brought him up!

MOS DEF: Look, a man in his forties should not be carrying a moniker like Mos Def around. Can you imagine me hitting 50 and still basically being called ‘Aw Yeah!’?

DG GREEN: LL Cool J seems happy.

MOS DEF: (several Pinter pauses pass by) Do not compare me to LL Cool J. I will drown you in a jeroboam of champagne and sample your death-rattle as a bass track.

 

DG Green gulps audibly, and grabs another glass of champagne from a passing waiter, he then grabs the waiter and pulls him back to grab a second glass. He drinks both, and then nervously smiles at Mos Def.

 

DG GREEN: Look, Mos…

MOS DEF: Don’t … call me Mos! Come on, man! Make the effort.

DG GREEN: Oh! Sorry, my bad. Um, yeah, so, look, um. … … … … …

MOS DEF: (sighs) Did you seriously just forget my name in the middle of a conversation about my name?

DG GREEN: No! No. It’s … uh. … … (snaps fingers) Dante.

MOS DEF: No, that’s the name I was born with.

DG GREEN: Wait, of course, it’s, uh, uh, … … Terrell!

MOS DEF: No. That’s the middle name of the name I was born with. I can see why you’re such a good fit for directing stoner comedies…

DG GREEN: Hey! That was uncalled for. I’ve got a mortgage to pay. Look I am sorry about the whole Our Brand is Crisis mix-up, but, uh, look, have you booked a movie since you changed your name?

MOS DEF: Oh what the hell, DG? I’ve been in Life of Crime and Begin Again since I changed my name. People respect those movies, even if nobody saw them.

DG GREEN: Yeah, but had you booked them as Mos Def before you changed name?

MOS DEF: (several Pinter pauses) What are you trying to say?

DG GREEN: Could it be that people don’t know it’s you when you ring?

MOS DEF: Are you saying you remember me ringing you?

DG GREEN: No, no, I was just … running with your example. If people don’t know that, when you ring, maybe you could do like Prince…

MOS DEF: I am not introducing myself as The Actor Formerly Known as Mos Def.

DG GREEN: Maybe just have a symbol to go with Yasiin Bey?

MOS DEF: If I’m going to have conversations like this every time I get a meeting I think I’d just rather retire.

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