The radio-serial vigilante the Green Hornet arrives in theaters nationwide today, courtesy of co-writer/star Seth Rogen and director Michel Gondry—a peculiar pedigree, to say the least. Especially for a 3-D superhero spectacle like The Green Hornet. The project has long been plagued by bad buzz—perhaps in part due to the personnel involved—but ahead of its release, after a round of reshoots and a full-scale marketing rethink, the movie has been tracking fairly well. Maybe Gondry's first foray into very-big-budget filmmaking won't prove a disaster after all.
The endeavor seemed ill-fated in part because Gondry, who made a name for himself by deploying amiably lo-fi special effects in music videos for such acts as Björk and the White Stripes, has always seemed allergic to streamlined CGI: He often likes the seams to show—or, rather, the strings. Gondry's feature films, starting with 2001's Human Nature, have also displayed his patented mad-inventor aesthetic, to variable degrees of success. The filmmaker turned writer-director on The Science of Sleep (2006) and Be Kind Rewind (2008), but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), from a script by Charlie Kaufman, remains his masterpiece. An unfairly overlooked section of the director's filmography, though, lies between these life-of-the-mind fantasies and The Green Hornet.
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In The Thorn in the Heart, a feature documentary (Gondry's second, after Dave Chappelle's Block Party) barely released stateside last year and currently available to "watch instantly" on Netflix, Gondry turns the camera on his own family. The documentary focuses on Gondry's aunt Suzette, a teacher touring the French-countryside schools where she taught 20 years after her retirement, and his cousin Jean-Yves, Suzette's son. Both relatives recount struggles of a very different order: Suzette with her agitating for gender equality and unorthodox techniques in postwar classrooms, the homosexual Jean-Yves with acceptance from his mother and father. They still live together, but relations between Jean-Yves and Suzette remain strained, a dynamic Gondry explores in an atypically unhurried fashion.