Saturday, December 28, 2019

Jojo Rabbit (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Taika Waititi and Christine Leunens
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin Mackenzie, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant

Jojo Rabbit is now showing in cinemas everywhere thanks to 20th Century Fox. 

The concept of Jojo Rabbit as an anti-hate satire is proving to be a hard one for many people to grasp. Despite this being the categorisation given to the film by it's filmmaker, Taika Waititi, it is perhaps not the best choice of words as it implies that we should be seeing something as awful as Nazi occupation in Germany as being funny. Thankfully, this is not what Waititi is attempting to achieve despite his choice of words.

Jojo Rabbit is an incredibly moving coming of age story that takes place during one of the darkest times in history. It is a tale of savouring the innocence of youth in Germany during the second World War, when boys were forced to be men and girls and women alike were forced to abandon their hopes and dreams. Jojo Rabbit draws extraordinary comparisons to 1940's The Great Dictator, another film which was criticised for it's controversial subject matter by many and praised by others for it's brilliance.

In 1940, Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator, his film which announced in spectacular style that The Little Tramp was no more. Chaplin not only directed the film, but also starred in the film as two characters who were victims of mistaken identity. One of these characters was a dictator of a fictional country, Tomania and was named Adenoid Hynkel, a character that is unmistakably based on Adolf Hitler. As the film was released before World War II, Chaplin received an incredible amount of criticism for not only making fun of, but also demonising a world leader in a time when Hollywood was quick to blacklist outsiders. Chaplin himself identified as an atheist, but Sydney, his older half-brother whom he was very close to, was Jewish. However, The Great Dictator was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor in A Leading Role, and received wide acclaim, as well as the intense criticism.

Fast forward to 2019, Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit is met with much of the same reception as The Great Dictator, although Waititi is far less subtle in his portrayal of Hitler than Chaplin was. The film has rattled those who feel that nothing about World WarII was comical, and that it should not be portrayed that way. This could not be more true, making light and encouraging an audience to laugh at one of the worst time periods in the modern world would be a terrible idea for a film. However, Waititi is certainly not asking you to do this. The eccentric filmmaker is himself of Jewish descent on his mother's side, so it is highly unlikely that he would be wanting to make Hitler or life in Germany during the war humourous.

Jojo Rabbit is a view of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a ten-year-old, an age where boys and girls tend to start trying to prove they are older, but still have the mind and wonder of a child. Roman Griffin Davis gives a magnificent breakout performance as Jojo, a young boy in Germany who's family has been torn apart by the war. At such a impressionable age, he has been conditioned to believe that the Nazis are the true heroes of the war and that Jews are a type of otherworldly evil. Jojo is really just like every other ten-year-old, and particularly one who does not have a male influence in his life as he is being raised by his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).

His hero is Adolf Hitler, who he constructs in his mind to represent everything he is missing in his life as a result of missing his father and brother. Hitler (portrayed by Waititi as a middle finger to the long deceased dictator, who would be turning in his grave knowing that a Polynesian Jew is playing him) becomes his imaginary friend. He is playful, comical, supportive and comforting, things which children crave in their life. History tells us that Hitler was not any of these things, but all he is the visualisation of Jojo's imaginary friend, as he was a type of untouchable celebrity to German children growing up in the occupation. It would not be too far-fetched to believe that there were many children during this time who were just like Jojo and seeing Hitler as their imaginary friend.

The darkly comical side of Jojo Rabbit is not just reflected in Hitler, but also in the characters who are part of the Nazi regime. In particular, Captain Klezendorf (Sam Rockwell), Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), Finkel (Alfie Allen) and Deertz (Stephen Merchant) are all given humourous qualities and are found in comical situations. It is here that Waititi has taken on a practise that is not uncommon to Quentin Tarantino. In his films such as Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time in...Hollywood, Tarantino takes on history and adds his form of black comedy to these villains to expose the nonsensical nature of their evil. Waititi has done this with the Nazis in Jojo Rabbit. He, like many others, sees this group of people as being idiotic as well as evil, and relishes in the chance to expose them for what they are/were. Another point that is to be made where the comedy in Jojo Rabbit is concerned, is that it is important to understand Waititi's brand of humour. The filmmaker has had an incredible career thus far due to his very specific and original brand of comedy that resonates through his films. It is unlikely that if you are not a fan of his previous work, that you will enjoy this satire.

Something else which Waititi is an expert at in his films, is the theme of family. In Jojo Rabbit, he once again takes on this subject with an endearing combination of love that is as whimsical as it is heartbreaking. Jojo Rabbit is classified as a comedy, but it absolutely does not shy away from the harsh reality of the time. It addresses the loss of innocence in the children, grief, terror and unrelenting frustration felt by families during the time period.

Like The Great Dictator before, Jojo Rabbit is a wonderful achievement in film-making. However, it is important to understand where Taika Waititi is coming from to be able to completely recognise that we are not being asked to laugh at Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany to lessen to severity of the war. We are being asked to see World War II through the innocent and untainted eyes of a child.


Monday, December 9, 2019

Knives Out (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 130 minutes
Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, LaKeith Stanfield, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome.

Knives Out is now showing in cinemas everywhere thanks to Studiocanal.

Rian Johnson's murderous affair, Knives Out is a return to the glory days of the whodunnit. With it's atmosphere of dread and intrigue combined with a spectacular cast who all deliver captivating performances, Knives Out is a reminder of how much fun cinema can really be when everything comes together with perfect timing.

Knives Out feels like Johnson's tribute to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot stories. In particular, the film follows the formula of Murder on The Orient Express with it's grand cast and their intriguing and colourful characters, each with a motive for committing the cruellest of crimes. The location here, which is incredibly important in such a story as it needs to have just as much character as the humans, is the exquisite, atmospheric and often quirky Massachusetts manor of bestselling author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). After his untimely death following his 85th birthday party, private eye Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is called in to investigate his death. Even though the easiest conclusion to make about the cause of death is to rule suicide, Blanc believes that one of the family members has something to hide and that Thrombey's death is the result of creative foul play.

The film is a rare type of multi-layered mystery. It plays very much on the idea of things aren't always as they seem and even when you know that things aren't as they seem, how they aren't still remains a mystery. There is a certain level of predictability to Knives Out, but at the same time, it manages to be unpredictable from another angle.

However, it is Johnson's storytelling that is the keeps the film flowing and intrigue high despite whether it is predictable or not. The screenplay is airtight with extremely witty and entertaining dialogue. This characters are all unique and, despite the astounding situation, are relatable as far as personalities in big families go. No family gathering involving money and alcohol is ever a quiet event when there are clashing personalities the way there are in Knives Out. There is no doubt that in the film that Harlan's nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas) is perhaps the purest of souls and has the bad luck of being involved in situations beyond her control. The other characters have large personalities and have all been tainted by Harlan's money, which in turn has made them all dependant, greedy and, to an extent, bitter. Each has a motive to kill, but it is the journey of getting to know each of the characters and laughing at their qualities that makes Knives Out as fun as it is.

The stellar cast give their all when bringing these highly entertaining characters to life. Again, the film is very much like an Agatha Christie novel with Daniel Craig leading as the famous Benoit Blanc. He is indeed entertaining and full of life, but it is Ana de Armas as Marta who the film revolves around and she is such a gentle and endearing leading lady. She immediately earns the audience's love and respect, which is consistent throughout the film. Chris Evans gives new life to the stereotypical spoilt rich kid-adult as Ransom and, like any narcissistic character wishes to do, is the star of every scene he is in with his impeccable timing and enduring sarcasm. He is a fantastic presence in the film and undoubtedly an audience favourite. Michael Shannon, Jaime Lee Curtis and Toni Colette are all also extraordinary characters, who unfortunately don't receive as much screen time as the previously mentioned.

Knives Out brings back the lost art of making the murder mystery fun. With it's individual form of black comedy and host of brilliant characters, it is a film that transports you into a wild world of family turmoil that has never been so enjoyable.