Jojo Rabbit Movie Review

Taika Waititi is a tightrope walker when it comes to the execution of Jojo Rabbit, the kind of picture that few directors might be permitted to make. It helps when you’re coming off Thor: Ragnarok, the best received of that sub franchise in the MCU. This is a tale of atrocities and those involved in it. And it’s handled with a primarily light tone that eventually doesn’t shy away from the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The premise, based on a novel from Christine Leunens, sounds high concept in description. A boy with an imaginary friend that happens to be Adolf Hitler. That sentence could provide a visceral reaction for many and it’s up to Waititi to justify it. He does so in large measure.

The boy is Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old Hitler youth living with his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) in the waning days of World War II. All he really knows is the propaganda of his nation’s leaders and he’s part of the Nazi youth camps. They’re taught by an alcoholic Captain (Sam Rockwell) and a no nonsense Fräulein (Rebel Wilson). Jojo reveres Hitler so much that he acts as his imaginary companion. Waititi pulls double duty as the monstrous Chancellor and plays him as a total nincompoop. Yet like most fictitious companions (even if they’re based on evil real life figures), Jojo’s Hitler serves to reinforce his misguided feelings toward the Jewish people. Also because he’s lonely.

When he discovers that his mom is sheltering young Jewish Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) upstairs, his adolescent worldview is shattered. The witless Hitler doesn’t know what to make of it. Therefore Jojo struggles with how to handle this until his humanity starts to shine through.

To call this movie is a delicate balance is an understatement. There are satirical tones, but there’s a lot more heart. Anyone expecting a Mel Brooks style Producers exercise should look elsewhere. The humor is abundant for the first two acts especially, but always imbued with a level of pathos that comes into sharper focus as it goes on.

Jojo Rabbit is mostly an inventive case study in showing one child learning not to hate. It could fall apart without the casting of Davis. He’s rarely off screen and his performance is fantastic. Not fantastic for a child actor. Fantastic. Not many youngsters could pull off the range of emotions he has to go through and he nails it. McKenzie, in many ways, has an equally challenging role as Elsa navigates teaching Jojo not to fear her. The humanity of her character and the actress playing her convinces us and him. As you might imagine, Waititi has a tricky part as well. He’s got some of the best lines and reactions of all in his campy take. The more recognizable actors are all first-rate. In one of the most powerful scenes not involving Jojo, Johansson has a heart to heart about adulthood with Elsa (on the cusp of entering that status). And speaking of highlights, Jojo’s actual best friend Yorki, played by Archie Yates, is a scene stealer.

So… does this all work? Mostly yes. I also can’t deny that Rabbit never quite reaches the emotional impact that it’s trying to land. The concept doesn’t block that possibility. It’s more that the tonal shifts can be somewhat jarring in a couple of cases. It’s practically unavoidable. I never doubted that Waititi’s heart is in the right place and he’s assembled a superb cast to provide numerous laughs and a lot of warmth. Most importantly, it’s told through a child’s eyes who doesn’t recognize his idols are as false as can be until those eyes are opened.

*** (out of four )

Oscar Watch: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is undoubtedly one of Toronto’s most eagerly awaited screenings and it held its unveiling last night. The latest from writer/director Taika Waititi (who hit the big time with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok), Jojo is a comedy that involves a child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler. The child is played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis while the filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Other costars include Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett Johansson.

It’s tough to gauge if this odd concoction will work based on the trailer. Early critical reaction is all over the map. Some love it while others seem quite turned off with claims that its unique tone never comes together. The result is shown in the current Rotten Tomatoes rating – 55%.

Most films with that score wouldn’t be in the conversation for a Best Picture nod. This could be an exception as those who like it really like it. I still think it’s probably an on the bubble candidate, but let’s see how it plays out.

The two actors getting the most praise appears to be youngsters Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Waititi and Johansson were looked at as possibilities for the supporting races. Not so much anymore in my view (Scarlett can take comfort in that she’s appears in for Marriage Story). And Waititi could still land an Adapted Screenplay nod.

Bottom line: Jojo Rabbit looks polarizing enough to keep it away from the big dance, but ardent supporters could change that dynamic. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Girl in the Spider’s Web Movie Review

In 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo billed itself as the “feel bad” movie of the Christmas season. It was an apt description due to its bleak subject matter stemming from the series of Stieg Larsson bestsellers. However, the film itself left a very positive impression with its stylish direction from David Fincher and fine lead performances from Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.

It’s taken some time for Hollywood to come up with their second iteration of the franchise (there were three Swedish entries a decade ago). This time around, the players from Tattoo are MIA and they wisely removed themselves. Fincher only executive produces. Mara’s Oscar nominated turn as Lisbeth Salander is now portrayed by Claire Foy. Craig’s journalist Mikael Blomkvist is now represented by Sverrir Gudnason. The harsh material and winter that accompanies it are still present.

Unlike the 2011 adaptation, The Girl in the Spider’s Web (based on David Lagercrantz’s book following Larsson’s death) is not an example of bad meaning good. Sadly it’s just plain bad most of the time. In ways that were only hinted at in Tattoo, Lisbeth’s backstory is explored in detail here. She’s a child of a nasty abusive father that she managed to escape from. Her mission of avenging women from lousy men is provided more context. Lisbeth has a sister that didn’t get to loosen herself from her father’s grip. And she grows up to be Sylvia Hoeks’s character, who inherits many of the sadistic patriarchal traits.

Web has a tangled plot involving a McGuffin that reveals the global nuclear codes (how familiar). Lisbeth is hired by a conflicted programmer (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve it. The programmer, in a lame plot twist, has a young son who is the only one capable of unlocking the device’s codes. The American government, led by a sullen NSA agent (LaKeith Stanfield), want it back. So does Lisbeth’s sibling and her bevy of thugs who go by “The Spiders”.

I haven’t mentioned Blomkvist yet. He’s in the picture for plenty of minutes. As played by Gudnason, he’s also totally forgettable. The romantic dynamic between that character and Lisbeth was the bloody heart of Tattoo. Here it’s basically ignored and inconsequential. Mara and Craig clicked in the predecessor. Blomkvist is a dull blank slate in this.

Fede Alvarez is behind the camera and he’s a talented filmmaker as proven by his Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe. He does his best to bring some visual flair and succeeds a few times. He’s no Fincher though. Many of the action sequences are routine. I don’t look for plausibility in stuff like this. Yet the sight of Lisbeth getting herself out of impossible scenarios over and over again based on her being a walking super computer grows tiresome.

Foy is a fine actress who tries her best to provide some emotional heft to the lead role. This pseudo-sequel doesn’t deserve her. Tattoo made its feel bad mark in highly satisfying fashion. Spider’s Web feels like a fake.

*1/2 (out of four)

Fighting with My Family Box Office Prediction

WWE Studios hope to get fans out of the arena and into the multiplexes next weekend with the release of Fighting with My Family. The comedic drama is a biopic of female English wrestler Paige and her quirky brood. She’s played by Florence Pugh. Stephen Merchant (best known for his acting and collaborations with Ricky Gervais) directs with a supporting cast including Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, and Vince Vaughn. The world’s most famous brawler turned thespian Dwayne Johnson executive produces and plays himself.

Family premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to rather strong reviews. It stands at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. With a reported budget of just $11 million, this should have no trouble turning a profit.

It’s a little tricky to figure out how this sport’s fans will turn out. The film is being released on a very limited basis tomorrow in four venues and it will be worth keeping an eye on its per theater average. Some may choose to simply wait for the On Demand release and watch this tale like they typically view wrestling itself. The participation of Johnson only helps, however. I’ll estimate that this basically grosses its budget out of the gate.

Fighting with My Family opening weekend prediction: $10.8 million

For my How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/02/13/how-to-train-your-dragon-the-hidden-world-box-office-prediction/

The Girl in the Spider’s Web Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (11/08/18): And another revision down to $9.4 million

Blogger’s Note (11/05/18): I am revising my estimate down to $11.7 million from original estimate of $13.7 million

The Girl in the Spider’s Web makes its way to stateside multiplexes next weekend nearly seven years after David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Mr. Fincher is nowhere to be found nor is Rooney Mara as computer hacking heroine Lisbeth. Claire Foy takes over the title role with Don’t Breathe maker Fede Alvarez directing. Costars include Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, and Vicky Krieps.

It’s based on the wildly popular series of novels began by the late Stieg Larsson. This one in particular is adapted from the 2015 book by David Lagercrantz. The long layoff and different personnel involved could present some box office challenges. Reviews are mixed thus far as it stands at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s also direct competition in the form of Overlord, which will be vying for much of the same audience.

Comparing numbers with Tattoo is a tricky proposition. That eagerly awaited pic’s traditional opening weekend number was $12.7 million, but that’s with a huge asterisk. It opened Christmas weekend of 2011 when the holiday fell on a Sunday. Tattoo rolled out on Wednesday and Monday was counted as part of a long weekend. So its six-day earnings totaled out to $27.8 million. At the end of its run, it made $102 million.

Web is highly unlikely to approach those earnings. While it certainly could technically match Tattoo‘s traditional Friday to Sunday debut, there will be none of that extra holiday dough. I actually think a fair comp is September’s Peppermint with Jennifer Garner at $13.4 million and that’s right in the range of where I have Spider landing.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web opening weekend prediction: $9.4 million

For my The Grinch prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/30/the-grinch-box-office-prediction/

For my Overlord prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/30/overlord-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

On November 9, The Girl in the Spider’s Web drops in theaters stateside. It had its premiere at the Rome Film Festival and reviews are out. The film is a continuation of adaptations of the bestselling Swedish crime novels originated by Stieg Larsson (this particular book was penned by David Lagercrantz). If it seems odd to have an Oscar Watch post up for the thriller, don’t forget that 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo nabbed five nominations: Best Actress (Rooney Mara), both Sound races, Cinematography, and Editing (which it won).

This version finds Claire Foy taking over the lead role of Lisbeth as she follows in the footsteps of Mara and Noomi Rapace before that. Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez takes over top duties after David Fincher made Dragon. Costars include Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, and Vicky Krieps.

Early reaction is quite mixed and Web appears highly unlikely to match the many kudos that went to Fincher’s film. Critics are pointing out Foy as a highlight, but I wouldn’t look her to be a factor at all in Best Actress. Lucky for her, she is a definite factor in Supporting Actress with the already released First Man.

Bottom line: while Tattoo garnered Academy attention, don’t look for voters to stamp their approval here. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Logan Movie Review

A recurring theme in the X-Men universe has been to celebrate being different. This normally applies to the mutants being discriminated against. That’s certainly present in James Mangold’s Logan. However, unlike previous franchise entries, this one strives to be celebrated for its own efforts to be different. It’s a hard R rated venture where Hugh Jackman’s title character has developed a drinking problem and considerably more F bombs in his vocabulary (it’s the first word he utters). His claws shed the kind of blood you won’t witness in a typical PG-13 comic book adaptation.

This is a somber affair with a tone that is legitimately jarring at first. Deadpool may have been the first hugely mainstream R flick of the genre, but that’s all they have in common. Logan is different for sure, but I found that to be cause for celebration only some of the time.

There is little for Logan to be happy about as we open. It’s 2029 and the world’s mutant population is aging. No mutant has been born in a quarter century. The former Wolverine spends his days driving a limo in Texas for fat cats and bachelor parties. He drinks a lot and does his best to hide those infamous claws.

He also serves as caretaker for a frail Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose brainiac abilities have been threatened by brain disease. Logan is assisted by albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant in a fine performance). Our title hero’s past glories are sought again when he comes into contact with a mutant who isn’t supposed to be exist.

Laura (Dafne Keen) is a young girl with mutations similar to Logan’s. It turns out the military is raising youthful mutants for their own destructive purposes in Mexico. She escapes and Logan is asked to take her to a North Dakota location where others of her kind have set up a safe haven coined Eden. Logan isn’t eager to do so, but soon enough he, the girl, and Professor X are on a savage road trip. Standing in their way is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), head of a military organization termed the Reavers and Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the scientist who’s experimented on the new mutants. In a series that has seen villains both memorable and not, this pair resides more in the latter category.

Logan isn’t really about its bad guys though. It’s more focused on the demons that Logan is battling himself. Oh… and he’s actually literally battling himself too in the form of a nifty genetically engineered version of himself created by those villains. The toned down story (albeit with plenty of hardcore violence) allows Jackman to go places he’s never entered into before with his signature character. Same goes for Stewart’s Professor X. The movie’s points on being a caretaker may resonate with many viewers not accustomed to seeing it in a comic book adaptation. Both actors give impressive performances, as does young Keen in her often silent work.

Ironically, it’s when we realize that the new mutants have been so inspired by the X-Men tales that came before it that Logan generates its greatest power. In other words, that would be the kind of stories we saw in the previous movies that this strives to be so dissimilar from. The final act is most potent and I felt at times it takes a little longer than it should to get there. When it finally does, Logan provides a fulfilling conclusion to Jackman’s work as Logan/Wolverine as the claws draw to a close.

*** (out of four)