Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi has done it again! As if What we do in the Shadows wasn’t glorious enough, he then decided to write, direct, and star in this cinematic accomplishment. 

War movies give me anxiety – especially ones highlighting the horrors of WWII. With that in mind, my official mood going into this comedy-war-drama was “TENSE”. 

Jojo Rabbit is the story of an adorable 10-year old boy named Jojo who is working his way up the ranks of the Hitler youth during WWII. What’s up with the “Rabbit” part of his name? You’ll see. 

Jojo is all about that Hitler life, hailing everyone he sees as he makes his way down the street to his Nazi summer camp. As with many 10-year-olds, Jojo has an imaginary friend, but, unlike most children, his imaginary friend is…Hitler. So there’s that slight differentiator.

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Jojo looks to Hitler (Taika Waititi) to help him be his best self, and although Hitler can be a little self-centered and childish, he does provide companionship for Jojo most of the time. You see, Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johannson) isn’t home very much, and his father is overseas, so he must find ways to keep himself occupied. 

Taiki Waititi is actually part Jewish. When asked why he chose to play Hitler in this film, he had a brilliant response: “The answer’s simple, what better ‘fuck you’ to the guy?”.   

At “camp” Jojo catches up with his best friend, Yorki, another precious child actor who is way too good to be a human. Sam Rockwell plays Captain Klezendorf, the eccentric and darkly humorous camp director, accompanied by his secret lover, Finkel, played by Alfie Allen (a.k.a. Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones).

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Captain Klezendorf showing the camp kiddies how it’s done.

Rebel Wilson is laugh-out-loud funny as fellow camp director Fraulein Rahm. I know Rebel can be too outrageous for some people (my mother dislikes her entire vibe), but if you haven’t enjoyed her before, please give her a chance in Jojo Rabbit. She is truly hilarious.  

I am happy to report that, although a few points in this movie are expectedly dark and depressing, they are balanced very well with the humor and parody of the rest of the film. These actors are perfectly cast for their roles and they play them to near perfection. That’s probably why it was nominated for (and won) so many awards. 

aryan.gifOne afternoon, Jojo makes a very concerning discovery in his house: his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their walls. As an avid Hitler youth, this is extremely distressing to our little Jojo. But, he decides to make the best of the situation by using the opportunity to his advantage. Jojo wants to truly know his enemy, so he asks his uninvited guest to tell him all about the Jews so he can write a book. Elsa agrees, and the two begin getting to know one another. 

The remainder of this film takes the viewer through waves of humor, sacrifice, anguish, goofiness, and love. Jojo’s world evolves significantly as he gets to know Elsa, and his relationship with Hitler starts to splinter. It’s hard to imagine how comedy could possibly weave so seamlessly with such a disturbing premise, but Taika Waititi does it beautifully. I find this film to be touching, funny, and deeply human. Jojo Rabbit is historical fantasy at its finest.

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I love you, Yorki.

 

 

The Lego Batman Movie

I hardly remember the original Lego Movie (2014), but I do recall that they released an onslaught of Lego movie sequels after it. Among them, The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Even though Batman is undoubtedly the greatest superhero of all time and everything he says and does is breathtaking, I still went into this film with skepticism. 

When done incorrectly (98% of the time) sequels, film series’, and their endless Roman Numeral counterparts, are unholy creations. You cannot compare a masterpiece like Rocky to whatever the HELL Rocky V is supposed to be. 

joker.gifThe Lego Batman Movie surpassed my expectations as a series film. Let me oversimplify the plot for you: We find Batman (Will Arnett) fighting the usual Gotham scum, including one of his greatest foes, The Joker. Unfortunately, Batman doesn’t view The Joker as his ultimate foe, and this hurts The Joker’s (Zac Galifinakis) feelings. So, The Joker decides he will devise a plan to show Batman just how formidable a foe he can be.  

As The Joker’s plan gets quietly underway, Batman’s attention is distracted by his accidental adoption of a rambunctious boy named Dick Robin Grayson (Michael Cera) and his sparring matches with Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson). 3004668_170x100.gif

When The Joker’s maniacal plot starts getting out of control, Batman must learn to trust his new friends (and Alfred, who is voiced by Ralph Fiennes) if he wants to save Gotham.  

I really appreciate how they tweaked Batman’s persona for comedy. To make it ironic, they kept his cool and mysterious demeanor, but made fun of his underlying faults. Batman is therefore depicted as a vain, sarcastic, lonely, man-child, and it works nicely.

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There are three major elements that contribute to The Lego Batman Movie’s legitimacy: a fantastic script (screenplay and story by Seth Grahame-Smith), solid animation, and talented voice over acting to bring it all to life.

Some high points of the writing include:

  1. Witty, satirical, adult jokes that are all on-point
  2. References to the Batman movies, TV shows, and cartoons well-placed throughout
  3. A sophisticated and surprising plot
  4. Nice Lego tie-ins that don’t feel forced
  5. Great use of supporting characters, especially the villains!

Unlike many children’s films that are unnecessarily loud and brimming with annoying sound effects, this film stays energetic and action-packed in all the right ways. 

Take, for instance, the sound they give gunfire. The “sound” of gunfire is simply the voice over actors shouting “Pew! Pew! Pew!” as animated Lego bullets fly on screen. These types of fun sound effect choices can be found throughout several points of the film, and even the old 1960’s Batman “sound-effect-displayed-as-text-bubble” makes a guest appearance.

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If you must watch a children’s film, at least watch one that you’ll enjoy, too. This movie is the right recipe of creativity and humor, and its star ingredient is the 100% LEGENDARY AND UNDISPUTED CHAMPION OF SUPERHEROES, Batman.  

 

 

Parasite

You’ve probably heard the buzz about this South Korean film due to the plethora of awards it was nominated for (and won). I went to see Parasite in theaters with my husband to see what the hype was all about, and it did not disappoint. (Also, I got a big soft pretzel at the theater and it trumps popcorn hard.)

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Ki-taek and Ki-jung have to find pockets of Wifi to get a signal in their house

Parasite is marketed as a black comedy thriller, so when the first ¾ of the film included zero traditional “thrillings”, I started to question what was going on. We follow Kim Ki-taek and his family as they scrape to get by on a very meager income. Neither Ki-taek’s father or mother have a job, so the financial responsibilities fall to him and his younger sister, Kim-Ki-jung.

 

One afternoon, Ki-taek’s friend swings by to bring his family a gift, and to ask Ki-taek a favor. The gift is a large stone said to bring wealth and prosperity to whoever owns it, and it plays a recurring role throughout the story.

For the favor, he asks if Ki-taek will fill in for his tutoring gig while he’s studying abroad. The gig is teaching the daughter of a wealthy family – the Parks –  who Ki-taek’s friend says are very trusting and “simple” rich people. If Ki-taek were to take the gig he would surely make good money, and more importantly, be able to keep an eye on the young Park girl. His friend is interested in her and asks Ki-taek not to make advances towards her while he’s away.

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The Park family

As you might guess, of COURSE Ki-taek ends up getting involved with this girl. But, that’s not the weird part. The weird part to me is that this girl is clearly WAY younger than both these dudes. Ki-taek’s friend even references it during their conversation, saying he’ll finally ask her out when she graduates.

 

The whole thing is mildly disturbing to me. I felt like they were sexualizing a child. However, I also know that women in Korea are put under a lot of pressure to appear young, so maybe that cultural aspect should be considered.

Anyway, Ki-taek goes to the interview at the Park’s, and it’s unlike anything he’s ever seen.

The luxury. The decadence.

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Even the Park’s living room is epic. Look at the size of that window!

Being the resourceful teen he is, it isn’t long before Ki-taek sees an opportunity to increase his profits. He enlists his sister Ki-jung to join the Park’s staff as an art therapy teacher. Just as her brother did, Ki-jung uses fake credentials and clever manipulation to land the job. It is unbeknownst to the Parks that Ki-jung and Ki-taek are even related. 

The cycle of creative and sneaky plotting continues as the Park family unknowingly find themselves completely intertwined with the Kims. Soon, the entire Kim clan is working for the Parks using aliases and fake backstories. 

Just as you think you have a handle on everything that’s going on, the THRILL portion kicks in. It comes out of nowhere, is very emotionally confusing, and is a hard left turn from the campy, darkly humorous tone of the rest of the film. There’s one turning point in particular that you will NOT see coming. 

I definitely need to see this film again to understand all of the nuanced commentary on social and class structure. If going by my initial impression, I think director Bong-Joo Ho captured this struggle elegantly and created an undertone that remained visible through the film’s many small details. I saw several of those details in the first watch, but I’m sure many also were missed as my mind scrambled to unwind the chaos it was witnessing.  It’s worth a watch, and also a second, to really absorb and appreciate Parasite. 2fabbc238b8d6232be087a92e15744c3bbf047f9.jpg

The Witch

Things I’d really prefer NOT to see in a horror film:

  • An abundance of bugs and creepy crawlies
  • Removal of private parts in some tortuous way
  • Skin lamps
  • Skin clothing
  • Skin face masks
  • Really anything made out of skin
  • People being sewn together ass-to-mouth 
  • Children and/or animals in pain
  • Cruel and unusual torture scenes
  • Anyone or anything getting burned alive
  • Anyone or anything having its insides pulled out while still alive
  • Removing of eyeballs or stabbing of fingernails
  • Sharp objects anywhere NEAR an artery
  • People suffocating or drowning

I guess that rules out about 90% of horror films… 

But for me, movies like Saw and The Human Centipede turn the horror experience from something bone chilling and exciting into something entirely beyond the realm of entertainment. If what I’m watching is so horrible, so disgusting and disturbing, and so realistic that it gives me actual anxiety, then it’s not “fun” anymore. I’m already tense enough IRL; I don’t need to spend my free time wallowing in the depths of human depravity. 

Do I want to be afraid? Yes. Do I want to feel suspense and tension? Of course. Do I want to watch some creep cut off a lady’s boob and eat it in front of her? No, thank you. 

The Witch is a great example of a suspenseful, terrifying thriller that doesn’t rely too heavily on gore or over-the-top disgustingness. Plus, it incorporates one of my personal Achilles heels of TV, books, or film: historical fiction. I WILL TAKE IT.

The Witch takes place in 1630’s New England. A family has been banished from their Puritan community for some reason we never really understand, and they must leave immediately. 

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Kate Dickie in GOT

Determined to make it on their own, William (the father, who has random Brad Pitt abs) and Katherine (the mother, who is apparently fantastic at playing creepy mothers since they also cast her as Lysa Arryn in Game of Thrones – aka the Mom who breastfed her 13 year old son and plummeted her enemies to their deaths) move their family to a nice empty field outside the woods.

In a perfect world, this move would be a nature lover’s dream. Beautiful forests to play in by day, gorgeous night sky to dazzle by night. But of course, that’s not how it goes down. Turns out, there is a for-real WITCH living in those woods, and she has no intentions of letting this family live in peace. 

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She begins her reign of terror by kidnapping the family’s youngest child, a small baby. Thomasin, the oldest daughter of the five children, feels responsible for the baby’s disappearance since he was in her care at the time. No one in the family immediately assumes that it was a witch, though. They assume what normal people would in thinking it was most likely a wolf.

As the story progresses, Thomasin emerges as a crucial character. Every sinister act that follows seems to somehow connect to her, making it easy to see how an innocent person back-in-the-day could get burned at the stake based on a few coincidences and unexplained happenings. Throughout the remainder of the film, we watch the events unfold mostly through Thomasin’s eyes. 

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Slowly but surely, the Witch continues to tear the family apart and enact her devious will. Her go-to spells seem to involve possession of people and animals, but she also likes to sprinkle in some wild card black magic and emotional torment.

The film builds a haunting and engrossing narrative that leaves us wondering what horrible terror might happen next. It pulls from actual accounts of that era, drawing on some of the earliest documentation of witchcraft and setting the stage for the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials that defined the late 1600’s and early 1700’s in America. 

If you enjoy ominous, historically significant horror films but hate aggressive and unnecessary violence, you’ll enjoy The Witch.

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Robot & Frank

We see a lot of killer robot movies, a lot of wrestling transformer robot movies, but not very many home healthcare robot movies. To be fair, a story about an old guy and his health robot doesn’t sound that exciting, but this quirky little dramedy offers its own flair.

Set in the near future, Robot and Frank (2012) is the story of an aging jewel thief whose mental deterioration is starting to affect his daily life. Frank is divorced and his kids live too far from him to check in enough, so his son purchases a helper robot as a live-in. Frank is not fond of the idea, but his son insists on him keeping it.  

In between Frank’s confused episodes, he retains his thievery acumen. A chance happening at a soap store reveals something strange about Robot, and Frank recognizes a unique opportunity. 

He discovers that Robot, with all his deep robot knowledge, somehow was not programmed to fully comprehend immorality? So basically, this film is confirming my biggest fear about AI – that we humans are not smart enough to create something more intelligent than us and TRULY understand what the consequences could be. Hashtag Terminator. Hashtag District 9. Hashtag Minority Report. Hashtag I, Robot. Pick up on the clues, people!!

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Aggressively shout this at anyone who looks the wrong way at you in da club. 

Frank uses this opening to start training Robot in the art of thievery. From picking locks to memorizing floor plans, Robot is ready to test his skills in no time. The pair of misfits start their first job at a library. Frank knows there’s an extremely valuable book there because he’s friends with the head librarian, Jennifer, who is played by Susan Sarandon. 

Several subplots are weaved together in this film: Frank’s courtship of Jennifer, his shaky relationship with his children (played by Liv Tyler and James Marsden), his newfound friendship with Robot, and his attempt to come to terms with his changing mental state. 

Peter Sarsgaard voices the AI robot, and Frank Langella plays Frank. Am I the only one who is extremely creeped out by Peter Sarsgaard? Even when he’s playing the good guy 

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GET. AWAY.

in a movie, I just can’t trust him. He has the sneer of a serial killer and the hunched stance of a deviant. His robot voice is disturbing to my soul, but he does it well.

After a multi-million dollar heist occurs nearby, Frank becomes a prime suspect, and the race is on to get rid of the evidence. Frank burns all he can and hides the jewels, but Robot’s memory is also a liability. Even though Robot has logically explained that he has no feelings and would not be upset if his memory was erased, Frank can’t bring himself to do it. But the longer he waits, the closer the police get to finding him out. Frank is forced to reevaluate what’s important to him and make some thoughtful decisions about his future, and his relationship with Robot. 

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This film is charming, funny, and at times, heartbreaking. It’s not an explosive futuristic suspense thriller (which is my usual go-to), but it is endearing. It’s a quick (90 minutes), sweet, and easily digestible dramedy that will tug at your heart strings and possibly encourage you to start stockpiling your guns for the robot apocalypse…which WILL happen; trust me…

Masterminds

There are classic comedies and then there are the ridiculous comedies that are so outrageous you sometimes feel uncomfortable. Masterminds is the latter. Here’s the thing — it’s not the BEST movie you’re ever going to see, but it’s not supposed to be. It works because they crammed a solid array of actors and SNL rockstars into it, namely:

  • Zach Galifianakis
  • Kristen Wiig
  • Owen Wilson
  • Jason Sudekis
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Leslie Jones

Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a guard at Loomis Fargo armored car company in North Carolina. David lives a horrifyingly boring life with his soon-to-be wife, Jandice (Kate McKinnon). Jandice is legitimately scary, which makes sense because she’s played by Kate McKinnon and everything she does on SNL terrifies me. Jandice isn’t all bad, though. Her best quality is that she takes fantastic engagement photos. 

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So majestic. 

David’s only source of excitement is his attractive coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig). When Kelly gets fired from Loomis Fargo, David is devastated. That is, until one day she calls him and asks him to meet her for lunch. David is surprised to learn that Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) wants to make him a proposition. Kelly and Steve want David to help them rob Loomis Fargo. Blinded by his love for Kelly and desperate for money, David agrees, and the plan is set in motion. 

tumblr_nqgl8answS1qcjzvuo2_500.gifThe most insane thing about this movie is that it’s based on a true story. In 1997, the real David Ghantt actually did rob Loomis Fargo.  At the time, it was the second largest cash heist in U.S. history. Too bad everyone was an idiot.

If you read the story of how it all went down, Masterminds stuck pretty close to the real happenings. The writers certainly took some creative (and comedic) liberties, but these people were such characters in real life that they practically wrote the script themselves. For example, Steve Chambers warned all the participants not to draw attention to themselves by spending the money, but once he got his cut, he and his family moved into a huge mansion and furnished it with Elvis paintings, cigar store Indians, and many other disturbing items. 

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Don’t eat the chicken, just ball up the fried skin in your hand and eat that.

David Ghantt was betrayed by Chambers, and when Chambers realized David had become a liability, he sent a hitman (Jason Sudekis) to Mexico to kill him. The problem was, once he got there, the hitman couldn’t bring himself to kill Ghantt. Instead, he ended up befriending him and the two enjoyed some time together on the beaches of Mexico.

You can’t make this shit up. 

Watch the movie to see just how outrageous these “masterminds” really were. 

The Girl With All the Gifts

Ah yes, the very familiar zombie horror genre. I assumed I’d seen all the variations of zombie apocalypse movies, but this one offers a fresh take.

The Girl with all the Gifts is set in a dystopian future where a flesh eating fungus has consumed the minds and bodies of most of the human world.

The movie starts with the day-to-day of children living in what seems to be some sort of military prison. They’re locked in cells every evening and taken out (at gunpoint) in restraints every morning. Hard core.

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The film asks a new question about zombies: What would happen to pregnant women infected with the virus? Their children would be born with the second generation of it in their system.

In this generation, the fungus has evolved.

The children of these zombie Moms remain completely “normal” in nearly all ways. They think for themselves. They have personalities. They learn. The fungus hasn’t turned them into mindless killing machines. Their desire for human flesh can still overtake them, though. 

When the children smell human scent, they instinctively start growling and trying to attack. It’s nearly impossible for them to control, which is why they are restrained. The staff of this military prison/research facility also wear a special skin lotion to help make their scent “invisible” and keep the children’s’ fungus from acting up.

It’s because of these magnificent fungus evolutions that Dr. Caroline Caldwell feels justified in experimenting on these children. She believes she is close to finding the cure that will save humanity, but she needs to get inside the children’s minds to do it.glenn.jpeg

Dr. Caldwell is played by Glenn Close, who —  if you’ve ever seen her play Cruella DeVille you’ll agree – makes a superb villain. 

One of these children – Melanie – stands out. She is highly intelligent–— both mentally and emotionally. She is the girl with all the gifts. Melanie has a particularly close relationship with her teacher, and when zombies overrun the prison, she teams up with her to get out safely. 

The rest of the movie involves Melanie using her zombie skills to help a ragtag crew of leftover humans safely navigate the zombie-filled streets. tumblr_ov5f8yiJyK1rcrn00o4_500.gif
There are a few plot weaknesses in this movie, for example, the military base being so poorly guarded. I mean, come on people! There are like, 36,000 zombies outside your gates and you’re using chicken wire as the barrier?! Seriously??? 

But aside from tiny issues like that, this movie remains a unique zombie suspense film with a surprising end. It’s worth the watch!