Movie Review ~ Jojo Rabbit


The Facts
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Synopsis: A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.

Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Thomasin McKenzie, Alfie Allen, Taika Waititi, Stephen Merchant

Director: Taika Waititi

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: As I was watching Jojo Rabbit a few weeks back one thought kept running through my mind and it was this: “Gosh, I hope people get this is satire when they see this.”  Now, I’m not saying our society has become overly sensitive and far be it from me to use a gross phrase like ‘cancel culture’ with any literal purpose in my review but let’s face it, in the past few years there’s been a strange urge to jump on seemingly innocuous thoughts, words, and deeds and make them into what they aren’t.  Plenty of ideas and texts are out there that were obviously meant to harm, so it takes a little restraint to step back and look at the big picture to separate the serious from the satire.

Jojo Rabbit is a clear satire of anti-hate rhetoric and it couldn’t be clearer of its intentions.  Yet I sat through the screening so worried that no one was going to get the joke and take the film literally.  There are some horrific jokes concerning Nazis, concentration camps, genocide, and misogyny (to name but a few) yet they are presented in such a way that if you aren’t in on the joke you might be squirming in your seat during the opening credits when young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) skips with carefree glee around his tiny German village “heil-ing” all his friends and neighbors.  I admit it took me a few introductory scenes to thoroughly settle into writer/director Taika Waititi’s sardonic structure before I gave over fully.  Once I did, I found a lot of heart in addition to the laughs.

A 10-year old member of the Hitler Youth, Jojo is off to his first training camp with his best friend Yorki (an adorably scene-stealing Archie Yates) and his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok).  With Hitler as his imaginary friend, you can imagine the kind of pep talks Jojo gets as he begins his service and in Waititi’s hands Hitler is presented as an easily excitable, petulant, man-child that provides Jojo some moral support but not always the best guidance.  Teased at camp for his sensitive nature in an arena of hate, he gets the nickname Jojo Rabbit from his fellow Nazi buds and makes a bold gesture as a way to show them he’s stronger than he looks.  When an injury sidelines Jojo, he’s put to work in the office of Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, Vice) distributing propaganda while his single mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) works to make ends meet.

Often left at home alone, Jojo is surprised to discover his mother has hidden a young girl (Thomasin McKenzie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) in the walls…and she’s Jewish.  Having lost her parents and everyone else she cares about to the war, Elsa has no one to depend on but Rosie’s kindness and has developed a steely exterior that matches well with Jojo’s extreme indifference to a girl he feels he’s supposed to hate on sight.  With imaginary Hitler encouraging Jojo to study this girl so he can file a detailed report later on (in a manifesto with a title that becomes a running joke), Jojo gets closer to her and both find out they have more in common than they think…or what they’ve been taught to think.

For all the comedic elements to Jojo Rabbit, there’s an even deeper emotional core running through the center of the movie and I was surprised as how moving the film becomes as it goes on.  With several unexpected twists (and one downright jaw-dropping one), Waititi keeps audiences involved with Jojo and Elsa’s story but never lets them get ahead of the action.  We all know how the war ended but I had no idea where their stories would wind up.  The outcome surprised me and was par for the course with the rest of the film which never followed the path I thought it would.

Walking the fine line of comedy are a strong roster of actors, some appearing only in brief cameos.  Stephan Merchant (Logan) and Rebel Wilson (Isn’t It Romantic) may pop in for a moment but they each get at least one hefty laugh; Wilson in particular gets one of the best jokes in the entire movie.  While I like Rockwell and feel he’s been on a nice roll the past few years, his role here skewed a bit too farcical compared to the other players.  On the other hand, I often struggle with Johansson but found her work as Jojo’s strong-willed but vulnerable mother to be incredibly moving.  The real stars are McKenzie and Griffin who carry the film with conviction – two young talents handling difficult subject matter but doing so with a mature sophistication.  Really stellar work.

Expected to be a major player at the Oscars, Jojo Rabbit won the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. In the last 11 years, 10 of the winners have received a Best Picture Oscar Nomination.  It will certainly divide people and that’s a good thing because even with the satire carefully identified it might not be the movie for you, but I’d hate to see the movie discounted solely for the fact that people didn’t get it’s sardonic tones.  Waititi adapted, produced, directed, and stars in this and deserves some credit for magically making something so audacious work so well.

Movie Review ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Stars: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Cameron Britton, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Synnøve Macody Lund, Vicky Krieps

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: When 2011’s U.S. remake of the 2009 Swedish phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to bring in the kind of audience Columbia Pictures and MGM was hoping for, the two planned sequels were put on an indefinite hold.  What a pity.  Though the remake had its share of detractors, it was a compelling mystery and expertly made film that took its time to explore the characters and wasn’t afraid to wallow in some dark material.  Director David Fincher is a master at what he does and the look and feel of the movie, not to mention the fantastic performances from Rooney Mara (who received an Oscar nom for her work) and Daniel Craig, has helped to keep the film a singular experience.

Deciding to skip the two direct sequels and start over with a new novel released in 2015 brought a challenge. With Fincher, Craig, and Mara all released from their contracts and on to different projects, when the time came to bring the franchise back to life for The Girl in the Spider’s Web the studio had to go back to the drawing board and find a new director and star.  Bringing on rising director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) and hiring Claire Foy (Breathe) as the titular character were impressive gambles that don’t completely pay off.  The resulting film works fine as a standard thriller if you didn’t have any previous knowledge of the characters but as a continuation of what Fincher started back in 2011 (and what really began with the original film trilogy in 2009) it misses the mark by a longshot.

It’s been three years since the events of The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander has become a not-so-secret vigilante of sorts in Stockholm, coming to the aid of women wronged by men.  The opening of the film (spoiled, like much of the movie, by trailers that have given away far too many key plot points) finds Salander giving a wife beater a bit of sweet vengeance.  Foy plays the exchange like she’s buying carpet for her rec room at IKEA, it’s fine to be emotionally removed from these abusers but her monotone delivery suggests boredom rather than detachment.

Salander’s ally Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) hasn’t seen her since her wrote an exposé centered on her family.  Though his editor and sometime lover Erika (a sadly underused Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) urges him to move on, he can’t forget the troubled girl. Much like Fincher’s film, Alvarez keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart for a good half of the film but unlike the previous entry when they do share screen time there’s next to no spark between the two.  That’s partly because the dynamic in this movie feels like it’s shifted and Mikael is now more of a second banana to Lisbeth’s main character.

When Lisbeth is asked to retrieve a computer program that becomes a threat to the national security of America and Sweden, she’s thrown into a conspiracy that will bring her back to painful memories (and people) of her childhood.  If you’ve read the book The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based off of, be prepared for major changes.  For fun, after the screening I read the plot synopsis of the novel and was amazed at the liberties screenwriters Alvarez, Jay Basu, and Steven Knight took with David Lagercrantz’s original text, rendering it almost wholly new.  For what it’s worth, the novel sounded far more muddled and complicated, something that wouldn’t have translated easily to the screen.

That leaves Alvarez to cut his own course with the material, leaving out the connective tissue that helped make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such an intriguing mystery.  There’s no real thought process from anyone in the movie, they either just “know” the answer to a perplexing puzzle or whatever methods they use to figure things out happen offscreen.  One example is a character in the U.S. who is trying to locate a hacker by tracing their location.  The location is narrowed down to Stockholm, at which time the character grabs his coat and runs directly to the airport…because Stockholm is so specific. Part of what makes these kind of films fun is playing detective alongside our lead characters but here we are so far removed that it’s like someone is reading us a story instead of inviting us to follow along.

The screenwriters also make a giant leap in turning Lisbeth into more of a superhero than a heroine.  She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, bouncing back from explosions and beatings needing little to no recovery time.  One moment Lisbeth has been drugged and the next she’s snorted some crushed opioids and is driving a car in pursuit of cybercriminals.  She also has a curious knack for knowing the right way out of dead end.

I’ve enjoyed Foy in her films so far in 2018.  She was great in the paranoid thriller Unsane and good in October’s First Man.  Here she’s merely OK and it’s mostly due to her being miscast as an edgy character lacking bite.  Mara and her Swedish counterpart Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth as damaged goods, alternately withdrawn and feral which led to her being unpredictable.  Foy isn’t afforded much in the way of surprise so we’re just tagging along for what is largely an unremarkable ride for the actress.

As a jumpy NSA agent on Salander’s trail, Lakeith Stanfield is even more of an enigma.  There’s no backstory to his character by way of an introduction nor do we get any blanks filled in along the way.  We get a sense he’s good at his job but how spectacular can he be if he’s constantly bested by Salander and the thugs on her trail?  By the time he’s somehow called on to be an expert marksman in an admittedly nicely constructed action scene, I sort of stopped asking questions.

The best performance in the whole film is Sylvia Hoeks as a ice blonde specter from Lisbeth’s past.  Dressed head to toe in red and never speaking above a child-like purr, she’s intimidating without even raising a finger.  It does veer toward campy Bond villainess at times (the whole film feels like a gender-bending Bond romp, actually) but Hoeks knows exactly what film she’s in and sinks her teeth into every bit of scenery she can get her hands on.  Much like she did with her unsettling character in Blade Runner 2049, she becomes the focal point of any scene she’s in.

Alvarez shows off some style in his eye for imaginative camera angles with the help of cinematographer Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe) and slightly macabre visuals but he is far more restrained than he was in previous films.  Aside from one rather ghastly sight of a man missing a key piece of his face it’s relatively tame.  I appreciated that he included a brief title sequence, nicely echoing the unforgettable pulse-pounding nightmare credit sequence of the first film.  The music by Roque Baños (In the Heart of the Sea) helps to set the mood, even if that mood too often requires Baños to veer into action movie histrionics.

I’m not sure what the impetus was for the studios to revive this franchise again in 2018 (were they about to lose the rights?) but they’ve given us another chapter in the Dragon Tattoo collection that doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same universe as what’s come before.  The characters deserve better, the actors deserve better, we deserve better.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Thoughts: Though 2011’s American remake of the Swedish sensation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was well received by critics (earning an Oscar nomination for star Rooney Mara in the process), it didn’t do the kind of box office numbers that inspired Sony Pictures to keep the franchise going.  When a continuation of the original trilogy of novels was released, the interest in resurrecting the computer hacker heroine grew which is why we’re now getting an all-new take on Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.  With Claire Foy (Breathe) taking over for Mara and Fede Alvaraz (Don’t Breathe) assuming directing duties from David Fincher, this first look suggests the same dark vibe as the previous entry.  Foy looks to have morphed nicely into the rough and tumble Salander and I’m excited for Blade Runner 2049 breakout Sylvia Hoeks to be featured briefly in this teaser. 

Movie Review ~ Logan

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Boyd Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: We should all be thanking Mission: Impossible 2.  It may be hard to fathom now, but had his filming as the villain in that sorry sequel not stretched beyond its original shooting schedule, Doughray Scott and not Hugh Jackman would have been the one that wound up playing Logan/Wolverine in nine films.  Well, actually, I’m not sure Scott had the charisma necessary to have lasted as long as Jackman has in the role.  Though he’s ably stretched beyond the superhero universe, Jackman will always be favorably associated with this character/franchise and rightfully so.  Showing a willingness to be a team player (popping up in a cameo during X:Men – First Class) or going his own way in two stand-alone Wolverine pictures, Jackman has seen this role through to the end.  We may see Wolverine again in some form but if Logan is truly the finale Jackman has promised, he’s gone out in a burning blaze of glory.

It’s not worth going back and trying to connect the dots between the X-Men movies when thinking about Logan.  Taking place in the near future shortly after a catastrophic event that dramatically decreased the number of mutants roaming the globe, we meet a weary Logan living under the radar and showing his age.  Moonlighting as a limo driver for extra cash and with his earth-saving days seemingly behind him, he acts as a guardian to Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Green Room), now suffering in an advanced state of dementia.

Crossing paths not only with a silent but deadly pre-teen mutant (Dafne Keen) but the bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl) intent on tracking her down, the aged man with adamantium claws that spring from his knuckles doesn’t want to be anywhere near the action.  Resistance is futile, though, and Logan begrudgingly becomes a foster parent of sorts to the girl, committing to delivering her to a protected area in the upper Midwest while keeping Professor X close by.  The trip is rocky with many unexpected detours, all leading to a surprisingly emotional climax that feels justly earned.

With all the “last time as Wolverine” talk surrounding Logan, I’ll let you find out for yourself where our hero is when the credits roll but don’t be surprised if Jackman, reteaming with The Wolverine director James Mangold, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he closes this chapter.  The previous two solo Wolverine films have been a mixed bag.  The first was an outright miss, stumbling out of the gates and pretty much nixing several planned X-Men spin-offs at the same time.  2013’s The Wolverine was a much better film than most gave it credit for but in the end the third time really is the charm because Logan represents the best of what all involved have to offer.

It was a good move on the part of 20th Century Fox, emboldened by the smash success of Deadpool, in okaying Mangold and his screenwriters to make Logan a hard R, a rating it earns within the first five minutes thanks to a gory bit of violence and a barrage of colorful language.  I’ll admit to enjoying hearing Stewart swear like a sailor and while I generally favor the less is more approach, free from ratings restraints it seems like everyone and everything is much looser and less cautious.  The violence is exceedingly vicious and no flesh, blood vessel, bones, or skulls are spared.  And it never feels forced, just that the studio finally allowed the audience to see this world as it was always meant to be.

Admittedly, the X-Men aren’t quite in my wheelhouse and it’s taken me a while to come around to their place in the superhero universe.  I feel they’ve improved as they’ve gone along, feeling less comic book-y and more wholly formed with each passing entry (I know you all hated X-Men: Apocalypse but I dug it just fine).  While Logan isn’t directly tied to those previous films (like Apocalypse was to X-Men: Days of Future Past), it’s clear they are all operating in the same timeline and for that Logan feels like a step in the right direction.

Coming so far from just chomping on a cigar and trimming his mutant mutton chops, Jackman knows this character inside and out.  He takes the opportunity (and lengthy running time) to bring out every nuance he can, not letting Logan be changed from a grumpy old man overnight.  He’s matched well by Stewart, doing his best acting than in any previous X-Men film. Crippled by his disintegrating brain, his grizzled appearance is a far cry from the wheelchair bound gleaming cue ball in a designer suit we have come to enjoy.  Holbrook manages to make his villain nicely vile without alienating the audience in the process but the real find here is Keen who is able to handle some pretty heavy material and handily go claw-to-claw with the leading man.

Featuring several super charged action sequences and just gorgeously filmed in general, if there’s one thing I could ding Logan for it would be a nagging sense of familiarity to its tale of redemption.  While it has its fair share of original moves, you’ll likely be one step ahead of its protagonists on multiple occasions.  No matter, the movie hums along so nicely that even at nearly 2 ½ hours the time will fly by.

For my money, Logan is the best of Jackman’s outings as Wolverine and I’m glad it doesn’t wind up feeling like a tired final act.  This is what true character completion looks like and I applaud not only the entertainment value of the movie but the cast and crew that were allowed by their studio the freedom to give a proper send-off.  Highly recommended and likely worth a second viewing as well.

The Silver Bullet ~ Table 19

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Synopsis: Ex-maid of honor Eloise – having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text- decides to attend the wedding anyway only to find herself seated with 5 “random” guests at the dreaded Table 19.

Release Date: January 20, 2017

Thoughts: I seem to have attended more weddings in the past two years than I have in my entire lifetime and have enjoyed each one of them.  Not only were they unique individual celebrations but I’ve been lucky enough to be seated at some fun tables and have met new friends. This first look at Table 19 introduces us to some characters that feel the burn of the high-number table assignment and decide to do something about it. Seems I’m eternally on the fence with Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2) but I’ll trek through mountains of toulle and tasteless wedding cake to see anything Lisa Kudrow (The Girl on the Train) is in. This seems to be one of those indie films picked up for a song hoping to be a sleeper hit, but I’ll walk down the aisle with it if there’s more funny stuff not shown in the trailer.

The Silver Bullet ~ Movie 43

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Synopsis: An ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.

Release Date:  January 25, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a film I’ve been hearing about for a while now thanks to a word of mouth publicity campaign.  Though it reminds me a lot of the uneven semi-classic Kentucky Fried Movie, this particular entry sold me on the cast list alone.  You have Oscar nominated/winning females (Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry) side by side with men that run the gamut from A-List (Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere) to has beens (sorry fellow MN Seann William Scott).  Many famous faces/names also wrote and directed the shorts so here’s hoping that the good stuff is great and the bad stuff is short.  I’ve laughed at this trailer (and its Not Safe For Work red band trailer here) and do anticipate liking this when it’s released later in January.