Jojo Rabbit review

For F*** Magazine

JOJO RABBIT

Director: Taika Waititi
Cast : Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Run Time : 1 h 48 mins
Opens : 2 January 2020
Rating : PG13

While he’s had a long career in his native New Zealand, Taika Waititi has become a hot property in Hollywood over the last several years. What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople earned Waititi widespread acclaim, and he has had mainstream success with Thor: Ragnarok, in which he also played the character of Korg. Waititi turns his attention to World War II with this adaptation of Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies.

It is towards the end of the Second World War. Johannes “Jojo” Beltzer (Roman Griffin Davis) is a member of the Hitler Youth and an unabashed Hitler fanboy, living in Germany with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). Jojo is an outcast who is mocked for refusing to kill a rabbit during a Hitler Youth camp activity. His only friend is Yorki (Archie Yates), also a member of the Hitler Youth. That’s not technically true – Jojo does have another friend: an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), who runs the Hitler Youth camp, takes a liking to Jojo despite initially dismissing him as unsuitable to be a soldier. However, Jojo’s resolve and loyalty to the Nazi ideals is shaken when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic of their house.

Jojo Rabbit is a movie that plays to all Taika Waititi’s strengths as a writer, director and performer, allowing him to put his stamp on it and make the movie something that is distinctly his. The film is a satire that aims to undercut the superficial cool factor that some perceive the Nazis as having by mocking them – this is a not a new idea. After all, Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed and starred in The Great Dictator in 1940. However, Jojo Rabbit presents the point of view of children who were growing up in Nazi Germany. There is an innocence and earnestness to the film which is married to an understanding of the horrors of war, and specifically of the Third Reich.

Jojo Rabbit is sometimes uncomfortable, but perhaps necessarily so. The film has been described as Waititi juggling a live grenade for 108 minutes, but the point of the movie is not to be audacious or to be shocking. While it can get very bleak, the film is largely a gentle, sensitive treatise on how hate is fostered and how it can be defused. The remarkable performances (more on that in a bit) give the film its beating heart.

The movie was shot on location in Prague and other locations in the Czech Republic. The cinematography by Mihai Mălaimare Jr. and music by Michael Giacchino all give Jojo Rabbit the feel of a prestige film, but because of its humorous tone and Waititi’s deft directorial touch, the movie never feels like it’s putting on airs just for awards season.

Jojo Rabbit has garnered controversy, with some critics saying the film should not be portraying the Nazis in a comical manner, even to mock them. After all, Chaplin himself wrote in his 1964 autobiography that had he been aware of the Nazi concentration camps at the time, he would not have made The Great Dictator. Steven Spielberg portrayed the Nazis as cartoon villains in the Indiana Jones films, but he said he could no longer view them that way after making Schindler’s List. Jojo Rabbit is tonally challenging, but this reviewer would argue that there is a sensitivity to the way horrific historical events are depicted, and that Waititi has succeeded in using humour judiciously. Some critics have also argued that the film should not portray any Nazis sympathetically, when Sam Rockwell’s character is depicted in a largely positive light.

Jojo Rabbit is the story of a makeshift family. Jojo’s sister Inge has died, and Elsa was a schoolmate and friend of Inge’s. In a way, Elsa is a surrogate daughter to Rosie and a surrogate sister to Jojo. Waititi has said that he intended the film to be a love letter to his mother and a tribute to single parents everywhere.

The relationships between these three characters are rendered with sublime beauty. Scarlett Johansson gives one of the finest performances of her career, essaying both strength and warmth. Thomasin McKenzie is an immensely watchable livewire and a gifted performer whom the camera loves.

However, it is Roman Griffin Davis who does the most heavy lifting and who carries the movie. The character’s arc from being obsessed with all things Nazi and unquestioning of the party line to realising that maybe Jews don’t have tails and horns and aren’t so different than he is plays out in a credible way, despite the movie’s over the top touches.

Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler is buffoonish and amusing, but there’s also quite a bit of nuance to it. This isn’t Hitler the historical figure – this is a young boy’s idealised version of Hitler, part father figure, part best friend. This is Jiminy Cricket if he told Pinnochio to do the worst things. This distance gives Waititi the freedom to play a character that does not need to be historically accurate. Waititi deliberately did no research on the real Hitler. Waititi is a Polynesian Jew and said of someone with his heritage playing a version of Hitler, “what better f*** you to that guy?”.

Summary: A moving, funny and beautifully acted comedy drama, Jojo Rabbit is a movie that near-perfectly juggles all its disparate elements. This is awards season fare that rises above the average ‘Oscar bait’ because of a daring yet sensitive approach to the material. Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie and Scarlett Johansson all deliver performances that are some of the year’s best, while this is the best showcase for Taika Waititi as writer, director and performer yet.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Logan

LOGAN

Director : James Mangold
Cast : Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook
Genre : Action/Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 17min
Opens : 2 March 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)

The conclusion to the Wolverine trilogy sees our rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem not to be born, but to face his reckoning. It is 2029, and most of mutantkind has died out. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) lays low as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas, now almost 200-years-old. The adamantium with which his bones were laced is poisoning him from the inside out, and his powers are waning. Logan makes medicine runs for Charles Xavier/Professor X (Stewart), a now-senile nonagenarian who is cared for by the albino tracker Caliban (Merchant). Logan finds himself in danger upon encountering Laura Kinney/X-23 (Keen), a young girl who was cloned from him and bred as a super-soldier by the evil scientist Zander Rice (Grant). Rice sends the Reavers, a cybernetic mercenary army led by Donald Pierce (Holbrook), after Logan, Charles and Laura. The makeshift family unit must traverse the United States to make it to Eden, a fabled oasis for mutants in Canada.

Hugh Jackman has portrayed Wolverine for 17 years – and to think it all began when the initially-cast Dougray Scott had to drop out of X-Men due to a scheduling conflict with Mission: Impossible II. Loosely inspired by the Old Man Logan story arc in the comics written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven, Jackman bids farewell to his signature role in grim, heart-rending fashion. Audiences feel fatigued from comic book movies in part because of how every franchise craves longevity, how every film must now set up the next few instalments in the series. The X-Men movies will not end with Logan, but there is a finality to this film that sinks its claws into the viewer, at once satisfying and sad. Logan does not busy itself with dropping breadcrumbs for fans to speculate about how this story will continue, nor is there some shadowy, ultimate villain who makes a cameo before manifesting in a later film.

Executive meddling is often bemoaned by fans – we’ve all heard too many stories of a director’s specific vision being cramped by the suits fretting over the bottom line. Seeing how expensive most superhero blockbusters are, it’s justifiable to a certain extent. After the explosive success of Deadpool, a movie which Fox repeatedly tried to prevent from coming to fruition, it seems the higher-ups at the studio have learnt their lesson. Director James Mangold seems completely free to make the movie he wanted to. A neo-western with a post-apocalyptic tinge, the Wolverine character suits the scenario which Mangold has placed him in to a tee. Mangold’s influences, from Mad Max to Johnny Cash to the 1953 Western Shane, create a rich tapestry, imbuing a linear, simply plotted film with genuine depth and resonance.

Much has been made of Logan’s R rating. At first, it was cynically rationalised as only being a direct result of the R-rated Deadpool being a hit. However, one would argue that if any superhero deserved an R-rated movie of his own, it would be one with metal claws extending from his knuckles, and who frequently flies into a ‘berserker rage’. Make no bones about it: Logan is brutal. Dismemberments, impalements and arterial spray abound. However, rather than relishing in the violence, Mangold uses it to make a point, to emphasise that all bets are off and that the consequences are realer than ever. Because it largely eschews elaborately-designed set-pieces in favour of visceral bloodshed, the spectacle in Logan might not be as memorable as in some of the earlier X-Men films, but it works.

Many tentpole genre films have claimed to be “character-driven”, and Logan is one of the few that deserves that label. Jackman’s swansong packs quite the punch. He essays a tenderness which the nigh-invulnerable Wolverine rarely exhibits, and it does ache to see the ravages of time finally catch up with the character. His worn visage partially hidden behind a scraggly beard, this is some of the finest acting Jackman has done in his career.

Stewart’s Xavier provides some of the film’s most gut-wrenching moments. Just as it is painful to see the powerful Wolverine reduced to a shambling ghost of his former self, it stings to see Professor X’s formidable mind rendered to mush. The kindness, wisdom and glimmers of mischief that have been visible throughout Stewart’s portrayal of Xavier remain, but we see it flickering and desperately want to capture it before it’s altogether extinguished. Giving beloved characters such fragility after so many years makes viewers cherish them, and is key to why it’s so easy to engage with Logan.

Keen’s Laura rounds out this dysfunctional but sympathetic and compelling family. The X-23 character, who debuted in the animated series X-Men: Evolution and who has now taken on the mantle of Wolverine in the comics, has great cinematic potential. The idea of a child grown in a lab who is mal-adjusted to the outside world and who forms a bond with a parental figure is not new, but Keen’s quietly stirring presence and X-23’s own formidable abilities make it feel like this is something we haven’t seen before. The distastefulness of imperilling a child for dramatic tension is mitigated by the fact that X-23’s own abilities are equal and perhaps outstrip those of Logan himself.

Previous X-Men films have suffered from trying to parcel out attention between way too many characters, and Logan benefits from keeping the circle small. English stand-up comic Merchant, known for his lanky proportions and awkward demeanour, delivers a surprisingly dramatic turn as Caliban. Holbrook’s Donald Pierce is little more than a hired gun, but it serves the story and his snarling manner is just the right pitch of evil. Similarly, Grant refrains from chewing the scenery as a stock mad scientist, his inhuman coldness towards his victims quite unnerving. There is a quiet interlude in which small-town farmer Will (Eriq Lasalle) invites Logan and company into his home, and they share a meal with Will and his family, a good example of letting the story breathe.

While Logan’s individual components might not break much new ground, they add up to something astounding, something powerful. If one has felt any kind of attachment to the Wolverine character as played by Jackman over the last 17 years, this heartfelt, visceral journey will tear you to shreds.

Summary: As thoughtful as it is brutal and as fresh as it is familiar, we can’t think of a better way for Wolverine to ride off into the sunset.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong