Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two movies and one review

Over the weekend, I watched a couple of movies. First was a delightful new movie that I have been waiting for quite some time - Michel Gondry's "Be kind, rewind" and the other was a shallow shell of a movie based on the premise that if you throw in a few big names, you can get away with anything and still make money, "Sarkar Raj".

First let me talk a little about Sarkar Raj. The reason I went to this movie was because me and my brother-in-law had nothing better to do on a saturday morning (my sister was writing an exam that day) and we ended up buying tickets for this movie. Firstly, I was shocked by the cost of a ticket (200 for a morning show, arguably on a weekend) and secondly, I was more shocked to see the theatre full! No wonder the multiplexes are raking in tons of money. The movie itself was ridiculous. An insane plot, bad screenplay and poor acting was just expected but what was incredible was the fact that the character who is shown in good light is one who says things like, "If he doesn't agree to my views and stands in my way, I will kill him". Intolerance seems to be the order of the day and people seem to like watching such movies about a "good man" who does not like being told he is wrong. Yikes, that was a ghastly movie and I hope the Bachchan family popularity dies a quick death. I think they are far worse than SRK, who is quite unhypocritical about what he does.

Be kind, rewind is a fun film. How can it not be with Jack Black in it? But it is also a very well written script that is a brilliant commentary on Hollywood and the movie business. The premise of the movie is absurd. Jerry, played by Jack Black, gets magnetised after a botched attempt to wreck a transformer and erases all the tapes of the video store owned by Fletcher (Danny Glover) and where Mike (Mos Def) works. After that, they have to recreate all the films that they have destroyed in order to satisfy their customers. Watch the trailer below:

The first movie that they re-shoot is Ghostbusters, which is one of the iconic film of popular cinema. They create the effects using relatively simple methods, like turning on the negative switch to make it look like night (day-for-night would perhaps have been too exotic), creating small figures and shooting them close up but making them look in the actual film. We see this happen over and over again, as they very creatively reinvent science fiction films like RoboCop, Men In Black, King Kong, 2001: A space odyssey. I would say it is a commentary on the illusionary nature of films and how visual effects can be created using simple, inexpensive methods. Camera is a tool for creating illusions, contrary to the belief that something captured by film would have be real.

I also think the film comments on the racial politics that exist in Hollywood. Since they reshoot movies already created by Hollywood, Jerry is inevitably the star of all the movies because he is the white guy and this is subtly pointed out when Mike becomes jealous of Jerry's stardom. It is a well known fact that in early Hollywood movies, asian characters were played by white guys because "asians were too asian to play asian". And in the film, the second movie that they shoot is Rush Hour 2 and Jerry plays the part of Jackie Chan.
Race does play a major part in the film since three of the four major characters are non-white and Jerry, the white guy is more of a goofy character than the 'hero', a character stereotype that is usually played by a black guy (example, pick any movie of Eddie Murphy). One of the customers of the store is a white woman who likes to see Driving Miss Daisy and later requests that movie to be sweded, ie, remade, which is a movie about how an old white lady teaches a Black man to read and write, a theme that Hollywood seems to be very fond of and something that MAD TV brilliantly parodied in this skit.

Very soon, the team of two guys is joined by Alma, an hispanic woman whose role in the movie in the movie is not just limited to being a prop. Her quick thinking and fast talking gets them out of trouble a couple of times and she has a sense of humour too. Quite unlike roles given to women in Hollywood movies. So, we have two black characters, one white guy and an hispanic woman and that's where the racial representations ends. Of course, you cannot represent every race in a movie but can it be looked as a analogy to the way the rest of the races, except for perhaps the chinese, are rarely represented in Hollywood movies anyway?

The store is a video store which is kind of archaic in this day and age. The title asks the audience to 'rewind'. Fletcher is advised by his friends to adapt to the market and give the people what they want. He then researches the 'market', particularly staking the shop(s) of what seems to be a big video rental chain and he makes a lot of observations: "limited choices, lots of copies, digital video, easily recognisable uniforms for the employees, no specific knowledge required", etc, etc. This throw back to a previous era is mirrored by another subject of the documentary they make, Fats Waller, who Fletcher claims was born in the same building as the video store. In the end, Mike with the help of the community create a documentary on Fats that they screen on the day the building gets torn down.

Film technology has evolved over the years. For a long time, VHS ruled the roost till digital video came along and then digital video improved manifold with the introduction of DVDs. Now, it is time for DVDs to die, though that it still a while away. Fats lived merrily but died an early death in a train. The video store lasts 90 minutes. For a lot of us, video seems to be an archaic technology but it lasted much, much longer than any of the digital technologies that are prevalent right now. This is quite similar to film making technologies. Celluloid is probably the oldest and still the most widely used medium of film making. But as the digital technologies get better and better, making film making cheaper, more efficient and a lot more accessible to people but it comes with its own problems - different and varying formats, lack of standards, lots of choices making it tougher to make a choice without a proper technical know-how, etc, etc. This film kind of just hints at these problems though it does not deal with it in any great detail.

The film also deals with the legal idea of 'copyright'. The films that Mike and Jerry remake literally gets crushed through legal action. There has been a lot of debate about what constitutes violation of copyright. Are creative reenactments, reediting (like the mashup I blogged about in my last post) violations of copyright? It is big debate and one that is not likely to be resolved very soon. Till then, creativity will be crushed by the movie companies citing copyright violations.

There are a lot of other things that I wanted to write about but I guess this review has already become very long and if you really are reading this line, which I doubt very much, I will let you know that I am stopping here. Watch the film and if you want to discuss more, the comments section of this post is always open...


Shashikant said...

Right on the money! For both films.

I watched Aamir and Sarkar Raj in the same week. The contrast couldn't have got any sharper. Sarkar Raj fares so pale in comparison that I felt sad for RGV and Amitabh. I mean where is the man who gave us Satya? He is also talking the lazy route of star power.

Be Kind Rewind is a small film with small promise, but delivers really big.

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice reviews. We're Gondry fans too.

Madhat said...

Hi Shashi, I haven't seen Aamir. I usually miss a lot of good Hindi movies because I stay away from them. Will see it sometime.

1minutefilmreview, nice to know there are more gondry fans out there.

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