The Green Hornet (2011)

2014 #117
Michel Gondry | 119 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Green HornetBased on a radio serial that spawned film serials, a famous TV series, and, eventually, comic books, The Green Hornet is a ‘superhero’ saga with a difference. For one thing, technically he’s just a vigilante — no superpowers here — and for another, as noted, it didn’t originate as a comic book. But that’s the milieu the character slots into these days, and so this attempted revival plays in that ballpark.

In this version, rich-kid playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) used to want to be a hero, until his domineering newspaper-magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) crushed his spirit. After daddy dearest drops dead, Britt and chaffeur/coffeemaker Kato (Jay Chou) accidentally save a couple from a mugging and decide to fight crime, using Britt’s newly-inherited newspaper, in particular the research skills of secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz), to help their cause. But LA crime kingpin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is not impressed with this new threat…

Produced, co-written by and starring Rogen, and directed by quirky Frenchman Michel Gondry, anyone familiar with their CVs will find “a superhero movie made by Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry” to be a pretty adequate summation of The Green Hornet. To clarify, it’s pretty comical, sometimes in that man-child frat-boy way, sometimes with a leftfield quirkiness. The combination makes it unique in the world of superhero movies, but hasn’t gone down well with critics or many viewers.

Run away!Well, screw them — The Green Hornet is brilliant. If you’re after the po-faced angsty worthiness of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy or the Spider-Man reboot, or even the X-Men films, then you need not apply. This has more in common, tonally, with Kick-Ass, or even Iron Man with the comedy bits dialled up further. That said, those two films were quite popular, so why isn’t this one?

For one, apparently Seth Rogen is doing his usual Seth Rogen schtick. That may be the case, but I’ve never actually seen a Rogen film, so I’m not over-familiar with his MO. His style isn’t top of my list of “how to do good comedy”, but it’s diluted enough here that it largely didn’t bother me. A couple of sections indulge it a little too much, but c’est la vie — it doesn’t ruin the whole film.

Another may be the film’s irreverence. That’s not to say something like Kick-Ass doesn’t have its share of genre disrespect, but while it allows its heroes to be comical it takes its villain seriously (so too Iron Man, actually). In The Green Hornet, everyone’s somewhere on the comic spectrum: Waltz’s villain is obsessed with being perceived as scary, in the end re-christening himself “Bloodnofsky”, dressing in red leather and coming up with an elaborate catchphrase to reel off before killing people. Waltz is, depending on your point of view, subtly ridiculous or phoning it in. It’s not as memorable a creation as his Inglourious Basterds Nazi, but you can rely on Waltz for a quality comic adversary.

The car's the starThen there’s Gondry’s direction, which is often as idiosyncratic as you’d expect. He’s at his peak during the action sequences, which explode in an array of effects and slow-motion to create multiple memorably unique fights and chases. Highlights are the first time Kato unveils his martial arts prowess, and the crazy car-driven climax. Chou and the tricked-out car, Black Beauty, are undoubtedly the stars of these bits — indeed, the film has an overall good line in making Kato the brains behind the operation. I imagine this is subverting the depiction of the Asian sidekick from previous versions, considering when they were made, but as I’ve never seen any I can’t comment fairly.

I imagine those who are enamoured of previous versions were also less keen on this one. There’s probably too much Rogen-esque comedy and Gondry-esque oddness for anyone used to a classic character from a previous era. I can’t blame them for being less-than-pleased by someone trampling all over something they love. For those of us without a previous attachment to the characters, however — and, crucially, with an open enough mind to accept a ‘superhero’ movie that brings a different perspective and style to an arguably-overworked sub-genre — this incarnation of The Green Hornet is a fine piece of entertainment. In fact, I’m tempted to say it’s one of the best superhero movies of the current generation.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of The Green Hornet is on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm.

It merited an honourable mention on my list of The Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

2008 #90
Michel Gondry | 97 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

Be Kind RewindThe work of Michel Gondry and the comedy of Jack Black are both, shall we say, acquired tastes, and not ones you would necessarily expect to overlap. Yet here they do — at least to an extent — but while Black is again doing his usual schtick as the Ker-Azy Best Mate, it’s the writer-director who is perhaps offering some surprises.

Gondry has exactly the sort of fanbase you’d expect for a French director who started out in music videos for Bjork and The Chemical Brothers before progressing to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. It’s not inconceivable those fans may’ve been a bit surprised by this effort, about two video store clerks who begin to remake well-known movies when all the store’s tapes are accidentally wiped, because it seems so thoroughly mainstream; or, to put it a nicer way, accessible. That’s not to say it doesn’t have an oddness about it — early plot points hit unreal levels, before the film becomes more grounded — but for the most part it errs on the side of realism. It’s almost hard to believe Gondry wrote and directed it, considering his previous output.

In fact, so conceivable is so much of the story that one could almost believe it was a fictionalised version of real events. The way the films are remade — using elaborate cardboard props and cunning camera tricks — are all pleasantly innovative, but well within the bounds of believability; and when they gain a previously-meaningless nickname (“sweded”) and explode with cult popularity, it’s heavily reminiscent of so many Internet-based crazes, several of which do revolve around retelling popular films. Indeed, placing the concept of ‘sweding’ at the heart of the film taps into the popularity such things tend to garner, and the enjoyability of the idea helps carry the film through some rougher patches.

And Be Kind Rewind is at its best — and, crucially, funniest — during the ‘sweding’ of recognisable films. These sequences are packed with the vicarious joy of recreating iconic moments from beloved films with just a video camera, some mates, and a pile of card. It’s here that the lovability of the concept comes to the fore, and it would perhaps benefit from even more of this. On the other hand, an endless stream of re-made movies is no substitute for a proper plot, so Gondry wisely limits how many films we see being ‘sweded’.

The problem is, the rest of the story doesn’t always do a great deal to make up for it. There’s a surprising number of stock moments and subplots considering Gondry’s roots, and some threads are underplayed to the point of seeming extraneous. In particular, a romantic subplot is so inconclusive — not even ‘resolved’ in an open-ended manner — that one wonders why it was included at all.

Your enjoyment of Be Kind Rewind is likely to ride on how much you like the idea of ‘sweding’. If it sounds like a fun thing to watch or do, the goodwill engendered by the concept may carry you through the film’s weaker moments. If, however, you think it sounds faintly silly, there’s not much else on offer besides a familiar moral message about community, and achieving your goals, and all that jazz.

4 out of 5