Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Director: Taika Waititi

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

Screenplay: Taika Waititi

108 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.

 

From the moment I first heard that Writer/Director/Actor Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) was planning on writing, directing, and acting in a Nazi comedy about a boy with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler, and that Waititi would be playing Hitler, I was immediately concerned, confused, and a little unsure what to think. Then, the first still came out, and it didn’t really help. In my mind, I’ve never been let down by Waititi, but it’s a tall order to accomplish something like Jojo Rabbit. Thankfully, wonderfully, Waititi is able to do the impossible yet again, making a film about hate that becomes about so much more.

Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) doesn’t have many friends outside of his buddy Yorki and his imaginary friend, Adolf. When he attends a Hitler youth training camp, he hopes to impress Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) by showing off his fierceness and prowess, but things do not go the way he plans. His mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) seems to have an alternative idea of the war and Nazism, but she hides it. Jojo learns that’s not all she hides when he comes across a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace, The King), in a hidden space in her room. As Jojo struggles with how to treat his treasonous mother and the girl in the crawl space, he is forced to make a choice that could alter everything he’s ever known.

It’s been stated a lot, but the first ten minutes of this movie made me pretty uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the very way it sets up the world of wartime Germany near the end of WWII. It puts you right in Jojo’s world, and that world was not one I felt okay being in until the plot really started to move. Davis does good work in his first major role as Jojo. It’s a tough character because even though he’s a child and seemingly doesn’t know any better, he’s still a Nazi child. His worldview has been painted for him with signs of Jewish evil and demons and some truly disturbing things. It’s not an easy viewing and even though it has some really funny moments, it’s also a movie I felt strange for laughing during.

As with a film like 1917, which I recently reviewed here, Davis is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, ranging from Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic) as Fräulein Rahm, an instructor at the youth camp (the best she’s ever been), to Alfie Allen (John Wick, TV’s Game of Thrones) as Finkel, the second-in-command to Rockwell’s Klenzendorf, who finally gets to stretch some comedic muscles and does a very fine job. Rockwell is awesome in this movie, and he yet again excels at playing those fringe characters who are really bad guys but he puts an emotional spin on them to really connect with the audience.

It is Waititi’s Adolf that is most interesting in that he’s playing an imaginary friend who looks like Hitler but is very much just a visage of Jojo’s interpretation of how Hitler would be to him, a child. Waititi’s portrayal of this imaginary friend rides the line very nicely between silliness and seriousness, and he’s essentially just Jojo, so it never felt like an out-of-place idea to have Hitler appearing in the film.

I can’t think of anyone else that can make a movie quite like Taika Waititi. His eye is unique and his style works well with certain stories. With Jojo Rabbit, he mines real-world events and circumstances for comedy, pointing out the ridiculousness of the beliefs that Jojo has, and he pushes them into the audience consciousness. He views wartime Germany as a bustling and more happy place that most films have chosen to, but it makes sense. To Jojo and the other townspeople, they are really winning, whether they really believe it or not, their wanting to believe it is too strong for most. There is a bubbling-under-the-surface fear that is present and permeating, and that foreboding feeling like things will not turn out that way, but it’s covered in a layer of liveliness, something that we don’t usually get in these types of films.

Jojo Rabbit is surprisingly good, but after this any hits, it’s tough to doubt Taika Waititi’s abilities in any way. He has consistently made great films across his career, and Jojo Rabbit is no exception. This isn’t always the happiest viewing experience (Waititi mixes tones elegantly enough to hit hard when the film requires it), and I found myself more nervous-laughing than downright bellying over with giggles, but that’s not what this film requires. What it does require is your attention, though. Go see Jojo Rabbit as soon as you can.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Director: Bill Condon

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra MacDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson

Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

129 mins. Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

 

It’s a tale as old as time but now Disney has turned it into a twice-told tale, but is it any good the second time around?

Belle (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Circle) is a bookworm and inventor living with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda, Dean) in the small village of Villeneuve. Belle deals daily with the advances of the slimy and arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, The Fate of the Furious) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad, Frozen, A Dog’s Purpose) as well as the looks from the townspeople who find the young woman rather odd. When Maurice is lost in the woods, he comes across a castle inhabited by a terrible Beast (Dan Stevens, TV’s Downton Abbey, Colossal) who trades Maurice for Belle. Then, Belle and the Beast find themselves falling for one another in the best adaptation of an animated Buffalo-Human Romance film ever to grace the silver screen.

But how about the actual film?

Well, in the world of adaptations, I found that this 2017 iteration from director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) has some improvements on the original and some elements that didn’t work. Mostly, though, it’s the same film. And in a lot of ways, that lessens it. There are very few liberties taken here, and overall it gives the film a very tame feeling which never really drew me in.

Let’s start with what works. The amount of respect given to the French location of the film is strong. Most of the accents work and even little touches like French subtitles in the end credits give flair. There’s also a sense of theatricality to the film due to Condon’s decision to treat this like a tale you’ve seen before. I highly suggest watching the film with the overture as it harkens back to the classic tale from decades back. I thought the treatment of Disney’s first gay character LeFou was respectful. I thought the tightening up of plot points in the prince’s age and in his ability to read (a major change to the character from the 1991 film) work well here. I also really liked a lot of the personalities and performances from the various living pieces of furniture, most notably Lumiere (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, American Pastoral), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan, TV’s Vicious, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility, Bridget Jones’s Baby). I am very thankful, however, that the director decided to cut the character known as Monsieur Toilette, played by Stephen Merchant, who would have been, you guessed it, a toilet.

And of course, the film looks gorgeous. There are a number of images I’d love to have on my wall from this film. Everything here looks astounding with a tremendous attention to detail.

Now, the issues with the film are glaring. I thought “Be Our Guest” was grossly over-animated and looked terrible. I felt like the film’s forcefulness to sticking to the source material made the film feel like it was dragging on forever. The musical numbers felt very autotuned and unrealistic and none of them really enhanced the original pieces. The issues amount to very simply not improving the original. This film is essentially a shot-for-shot remake in a lot of ways, and we’ve seen how that works out a number of times, most notably with Psycho and The Omen. It never seems to work, and it only reminds you how superior the original is.

Overall, I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast much more than I thought I would. Disney continues to create enjoyable experience rehashing old tales. The biggest problem with Beauty and the Beast is that I don’t see why anyone would choose to watch it again if they have the original film to go to. It just feels forgettable for all of its 129 minutes. There’s just a better version already out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Logan (2017)

Director: James Mangold

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

Screenplay: James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green

137 mins. Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.

IMDb Top 250: #130 (as of 6/15/2017)

 

The year is 2029. Mutants all around the world are gone. All that remains is an aged Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Eddie the Eagle) caring for an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Green Room). They are hidden from the world, and Logan makes his money driving a limo to raise enough cash to leave it all behind. But Logan’s health is failing. He longer heals the way he once did. Even with the aid of mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant, Table 19, Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie), the two elderly mutants are barely getting by. But when a mysterious girl with powers similar to Logan turns up, he and Charles are sent on one last mission to protect her from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl, Morgan) and his team of reavers. In order to survive and get the young child to safety, Logan will be forced to face the enemy he has been fighting his entire life.

Wow. This film is incredible. What a stunning finale to the Hugh Jackman Wolverine saga. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Knight and Day) has sought to create a wholly unique “superhero” film that stands as one of the best ever made. Logan is equal parts dystopian fantasy and western-style action encased in a comic book movie, and from a lot of what I’ve read, it really comes down to the working relationship between Mangold and Jackman. Mangold thinks on his toes and he tries new things, and it’s on full display here.

The decision to make the film R-rated was explained quite perfectly by the director who proclaimed that by aiming for an R-rating, you decide your audience, and with that, you are given the creative freedom to build the story you want. I highly suggest you hunt down the interview where Mangold described his feelings about the rating.

Do not try to forget though that this is Jackman’s movie. He commands the screen in every scene paired against terrific performances from Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen (TV’s The Refugees) who plays Laura, the young mutant with more in common with Logan than he expected.

This is also likely to be Patrick Stewart’s retirement from Professor X, and he gives it his all. I was as interested in the shadowed past given to his character as I was with the mystery surrounding Logan’s weakening abilities. Charles Xavier’s arc is one of the more beautiful, tender, and tragic to ever come from a superhero flick.

Dafne Keen holds her own as well, suprising plenty with her first major film role. I never doubted for a second that she was capable of the action she displayed in this film.

There’s a lot of questions about where this film fits into the larger X-Men context, so let me give my opinion. Clearly, Logan cannot fit into the first timeline established in the original X-Men film due to the time-traveling that happens before 2029. Therefore, it must be in the second timeline and this also helps to give some context of several canon events from previous films with callbacks here to several previous films, including conversations from X2, the Samurai Sword from The Wolverine, and a quick reference to Bolt aka Christopher Bradley.

All in all, Logan is everything it should have been. My only complaints stemmed from pacing in the second act and I was also unimpressed with the villains, but upon repeat viewings, the latter didn’t bother me at all. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I highly suggest you run out now and experience it. Seriously. Right now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle Goethe

 

 

 

So what did you think? Have you seen Logan yet? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

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