Friendship is Magic (Jojo Dancer, 2019)

Jojo_Rabbit_PosterJojo is a young boy living in Hitler’s Germany.  He aspires to be a great Nazi, to the point that the ten year old’s imaginary best friend is Adolf Hitler. After getting wounded at a Nazi gathering for Hitler Youth, these hopes are dashed. Instead, Jojo has to stay behind and support the Nazis through canvasing with propaganda.

But his life takes an even bigger turn when he discovers his mother is helping hide a young jewish woman named Elsa in their house.

Jojo Rabbit is a fascinating film.  It delivers lots of laughs, of course, in part due to the fact that it falls into a long history of presenting the Nazis as buffoons. Sam Rockwell is the disillusioned military man who has lost his faith in the cause of the Nazi regime. Rebel Wilson is the more devoted but goofy (at one point telling the kids at camp she has had eight babies for Germany).

Scarlett Johansson turns in a solid performance as the rebellious mother of Jojo, who hides her activities from Jojo to protect both him and herself.  She loves her son deeply, and hopes to turn him from his being a Nazi back to her son…a little boy.

Taika Waititi plays Hitler.  And he pulls off a stunning transformation. Early in the film, he is funny and almost sweet. When Jojo is humiliated by some older boys at Nazi Camp-giving him the Rabbit Nickname- Adolf tells him what a brave and noble animal a rabbit is. But as a friendship with Elsa grows, Hitler starts to become more menacing. He is really the dark ideology Jojo clings to, and as Jojo finds himself questioning it, the poison festers and fights to maintain dominance.

Roman Griffin Davis gives a great performance as young Jojo.  He has a sweetness that seems to conflict with his belief in the Nazi ideology, and ultimately, that nature starts to assert dominance. He also has a wonderful chemistry with Thomasin McKenzie. At first, she is abrasive with him as a survival tactic, but more and more their walls break down for each other.

Truthfully, the trailers did not prepare me at all for the film.  Because, yes, it is funny. And it challenges the viewer with uncomfortable moments. But it also is heartfelt and hopeful. And Heartbreaking. There are gut punch moments I was not anticipating. The film is unafraid to acknowledge the horror and evil of the Nazis, even while laughing at them.  And, maybe that is how it should be?

While Todd Phillips complains that comedy is too hard in today’s environment… Taika Waititi on the other hand makes a film that has laughs and heart. It has moments of raw and painful emotion that gets at the center of our conflicts and growing past our ills. Jojo Rabbit looks at us at our darkest and dares to call for hope. It calls on us to dance.

The Hunter or the Hunted Pt 12 (The Predator, 2018)

The_Predator_PosterShane Black, writer and director of the terrific films Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Nice Guys returns to the franchise he was part of at the very beginning. Black played Hawkins…who told terrible jokes to Sonny Landham’s Billy that he constantly had to explain and Billy only finds funny once.

Predators did not reignite the franchise, and so eight years later we have an attempt to reboot the series.  This film is firmly set in the continuity of the films Predator and Predator 2, with references and imagery to them, but not in a way that would be confusing to someone going in blind. It never acknowledges the third film, but it makes sense that nobody is aware of those events as they took place on another planet.

The film opens on Quinn McKenna, a military sniper with PTSD. He is on a mission when he comes into contact with a predator. The military tries to silence him by sending him to a military psychiatric hospital. There he meets a group of troubled soldiers. Meanwhile Dr. Casey Brackett is brought in to help study a captured Predator. She wants to speak with Quinn, so the prison bus is routed and they arrive as the Predator is breaking out and…well, okay…so the film is a bit all over the place in the beginning.

By this, I mean they introduce a ton of characters and that means it takes awhile to get to the meat.  But when all the threads come together, the film begins to pick up.  The finale is crazily packed with action and violence.

I like Black’s attempt to deal with human situations like Autism and mental illness.  Admittedly, at times the conditions of the soldiers can feel a bit more like they are jokes, but I still found myself liking the characters enough that when the carnage starts, I wanted them all to make it out alive.

The film has a pretty solid cast. I always like to see Thomas Jane pop up and Olivia Munn gets to be pretty badass and have more character than her role as Psylocke a couple years back in X-Men: Apocalypse.

The Predator tries to give the Predators a larger goal than simply hunting people, and it is not terrible. It is good enough to work anyways. While it is a bit slow on the start, it eventually becomes a fun action sci-fi movie.

It is too bad that the film is mired in a controversy that was brought about by Shane Black. He skipped over traditional casting and gave his friend a small role hitting on Munn. What nobody, including Munn, knew was that he was a convicted sex offender.  He had attempted to “entice” (legal term) his 14 year old cousin into a sexual relationship. Black knew his friend was an offender. Munn petitioned the studio to cut the scene, which they did. Munn faced little support in the beginning (with Black and the rest of the cast backing out of a press junkett, leaving Munn to be interviewed alone).

The cast has, since stepped up and Black apparently had been unaware of the seriousness of his friend’s situation and has apologized. He has said he is working with Munn privately to try and repair the damage.  Considering the film clearly left open for a sequel, I would like to see Olivia Munn return. Black really dropped the ball with his actions, as he did not at least make cast mates aware.

That said, I still really did enjoy the film, and in spite of flaws, it is certainly an entertaining entry to the franchise.

I Hate Mondays Chapter 1 (John Wick, 2014)

John_Wick_PosterJohn Wick is having a bad day.  A really bad one.  This is the gist of the film.  John Wick is mourning the death of his wife.  He is gassing up his car one day when some punks express interest his car.  That night, they break in, assault John, hurt his dog and steal his car.

One little thing…John Wick is a notorious hitman.  He is the boogeyman hitmen tell each other about.  Wick had retired, but now he has a mission.  That mission is to get his car back…but that means a whole lot of people are going to meet untimely ends.

John Wick is an action film with no aspirations to be anything else.  Wick is a very simple character in a post-Taken world.  He has a very special skill set and connections to a very dangerous community. This works in the film’s favor, as it makes it pretty easy to go along with the outlandish action sequences.

I have long argued that the key to a good Keanu Reeve performance is a character who might be smart, but is generally clueless about the plot.  And admit it…most of his most memorable performances involve kind of clueless characters.

Not John Wick.  Wick knows who he is, what he wants and how to do it.  And it is pretty exciting to see him do it.  The fights are tightly choreographed and eye catching.  Reeves maintains a strong presence considering the fact that there is not much to the character.  This is a lean action film full of characters with no real complexity.  Each character has a specific role and they play it well.  The film does not give you a lot of background to many characters…instead it allows the actors to bring a certain amount of their own presence.  Ian McShane gives the “Overlord” Winston instant gravitas, while Lance Reddick’s Charon carries a real weight of quiet authority.

This is director Chad Stahelski’s directorial debut.  He was primarily a stunt coordinator/choreographer who has done some assistant director work…but for a debut film, Stahelski does a pretty solid job.  Probably the biggest knock against the film is the choice to view the entire film through a blue tint, which can get annoying at times.

John Wick is a strong debut for a first time director and a good start to what has become a franchise.

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