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.

Breaking Down (Logan, 2017)

logan-movie-posterFirst things first.  You might figure this is a super-hero movie and safe for kids.  Logan is a hard ‘R’ and earns it in the first five minutes.

It has been known for quite some time that this was Jackman’s swan song.  Seventeen years is a long time to play the same character.  Just a few days ago Stewart said this was his final time playing Professor X.  And Logan is, without a doubt, a way to go out on top.

Taking the approach of Unforgiven, Logan is set in the not to distant future of 2029.  We meet a Wolverine who is not quite the best at what he does anymore.  He is sickly, he claws don’t work quite as well and his healing abilities are significantly slower.  He drinks, stumbles and is quietly hiding an even more troubled Charles Xavier.  There are hints and references to a massive tragedy that Charles is guilty of causing.  Logan and another mutant  Caliban (who is able to sense and track other mutants) keep Charles drugged because he has seizures that could destroy a city.

Although it is believed mutant kind is essentially wiped out, a young girl named Laura falls into their lap, forcing them to run from a nefarious organization that wants to get her into their possession.

Logan is a dark film, one that feels from the start that it has only one end for our leads.  It is a bloody struggle to get Laura to freedom.  However, it has it’s light moments.  These are primarily between Jackman and Stewart, as well as with Laura.  She is a feral child in some respects and has powers very much like Wolverine’s.

This is most certainly one of the best films in the X-Men franchise.  The story is compelling and the performances engaging.  The quality of the Wolverine films is a rare example of going from bad to great.  Logan is worth a watch.

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