“Jojo Rabbit” film review

A complex film about a complex subject, but finds a delicate balance between humor and respect for the subject matter. A satire or parody about Hitler and the Nazis isn’t anything new, from Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator to Bialystock and Blooms Springtime for Hitler and even Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, one of the darkest times in the world’s history has been the source material for motion pictures. While Taika Waititi may not be breaking ground in using the Third Reich in this manner, he is offering a new perspective through the mind of a child of Nazi Germany. And that is where we spend the majority of the film–in the brainwashed mind of a child. His imaginary friend Hitler is a manifestation of the ideals Jojo (our central character) holds dear, misguided as they may be. Just as we interpret reality through our worldview that is shaped by our circles of influence, beliefs, past trauma, and the families in which we were reared, Jojo interprets the world around him in a similar fashion. Only his world was largely shaped by the effective Nazi propaganda that turned Germans against one another, and as you know, the rest is history. On one hand, he is still an innocent child whom cannot even remember to tie his shoes; on the other hand, he has been radicalized to completely buy into the ridiculous portrait of the Jews that the Nazis paint for the youth. On the surface, this film comments on how Jojo’s worldview of the Jews transforms; however, there are nods to other groups that were also seen as undesirables such as gays. The fact that is wasn’t only the Jews whom found themselves targets for annihilation is often forgotten by the masses. If Cabaret depicted the age of innocence that ended with the rise of the Third Reich, then JoJo Rabbit depicts innocence and disillusionment in the final days of the war. Though there are times that Waititi comes close to crossing the fine line that he is dancing, he never crosses it, which allows the film to be enjoyable and comment on coming of age in a rather provocative way.

Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler — Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.

Unlike Bialystock and Bloom’s Springtime for Hitler in the brilliant musical The Producers, this satire on Hitler and the Nazis doesn’t quite hit it out of the park as well as Mel Brooks’ hilarious film. However, neither is it a disaster. That is likely to do with just how close to the atrocities of WWII that Jojo Rabbit takes us. If you’re worried about the film being in good taste, you needn’t. It may come close to being in poor taste at times and even questionable in others, but it remains in a position that can find ironic humor while not glossing over the evil actions of the Third Reich. It is imperative that audiences realize and accept that the movie is the manifestation of the propaganda-filled mind of a 10 year old German boy. We ostensibly experience the world through his eyes. Jojo lives in a complex world that is beginning to implode around him. All the while, when we first meet him, he remains committed to that for which the Third Reich stands. Taika Waititi takes a similar path to commenting on the central conflict to that which was followed by Chaplin, one that seeks to deconstruct fascist thinking.

Instead of simply the audience witnessing the events on screen that lead to destroying the foundation of fascist thinking, our central character of Jojo slowly learns just how vile the Nazis are, and that their way of thinking is a threat to humankind. How? For the full effect, you have to watch this film. But for the sake of argument, and not to over simplify, Jojo forms a friendship with a young Jewish girl hiding in the walls of his house. In a way, Jojo is in a similar position as audiences were in when Chaplin’s famous film was released–in a world in which Hitler and the Nazis were ever present. Here is where we have the creative layers that give Waititi’s film so much depth. Just as the world watched as Germans (and other Third Reich sympathizers) began to realize that the Nazis were masters of propaganda that brainwashed their own people, we watch as Jojo goes through a similar journey and transformation. As 21st century citizens of the “western world,” we often wonder just how otherwise intelligent, rational people could believe the ridiculous lies that were fed to them by the Nazis. This film paints an image of just how that worked. For all intents and purposes, if you convince the youth of your world to believe and buy into your radical platform, then the youth grows up to be the adults of your world. Thus, a following and movement is born.

When tragedy hits home, in a mindblowing way, Jojo comes face to feet with the reprehensible, seemingly unstoppable evil of the Nazis. This moment is when he realizes what he has been supporting and advocating. And even in his brainwashed state, even after he said the vile things he said, we still feel great empathy for him. And it’s this moment where he is tested to see if he is capable of growing as a person and thinking as an individual. Jojo’s eyes are opened, for probably the first time ever. He also begins to see how others, that he respects in Hitler’s army, have seen the evils of their ways and are doing what they can to make a difference. It’s also at this point that audiences realize that the captain, Jojo so admires, is gay and his (lieutenant, I suppose) is his lover. The subtext isn’t clear, but Taika tips his hat to this likely being the case. Whereas Jojo may not pick up on the captain’s secret, he is forced to accept that the captain could a sympathizer because he does something that Jojo realizes is not in line with policy and procedure. All throughout the movie, Jojo is challenged. Challenged by Hitler, challenged by the captain, challenged by his mother, and challenged by the Jewish girl hiding in his walls. It is by way of these consistent challenges that he grows as an individual and sees the flawed thinking of the Third Reich.

Jojo Rabbit is a provocative motion picture that provides audiences with a glimpse into the mind of a brainwashed 10 year old Nazi boy whose worldview radically changes through challenges to his identity. It may not be as edgy or as outstanding as we had hoped that it would be, but it is still a solid film that delivers a different perspective on a sensitive subject.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Dunkirk” film review

Journalism meets cinematic visual storytelling. Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk provides audiences with a different kind of war movie experience. Different in that the narrative is nonlinear and highly experimental. From a technical perspective, the film is flawless. The cinematography, sound design, and score all work together to create an immersive experience in which that fourth wall is nearly removed. One of my friends that I saw the film with last night described it as being a fly on the wall within each timeline. With little dialog, the focus is on the various groups of the army, air force, and civilians. The stylistic film reminds me of photo/video journalism. Dunkirk demonstrates that an emotionally satisfying experience can be delivered without conventional storytelling. In many ways Norma Desmond would be proud of Nolan’s film because “[he] didn’t need dialog, [he] had faces.” Dunkirk invites audiences in for a rare glimpse into the reality of war, and the reality of not only the armed forces but the civilian assistance that truly made the difference and just why this particular war story is so remarkable. Be sure to brush up on your knowledge of the events of Dunkirk before watching the film. You’re definitely going to need to have a base of knowledge of the theatre before becoming the proverbial fly on the wall.

Instead of a plot synopsis, here is what Wikipedia has as a summary of the history of Dunkirk Evacuation. This is definitely going to be helpful prior to watching the film.

During the Second World War (1939–1945), in the May 1940 Battle of France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France aiding the French, was cut off from the rest of the French Army by the German advance. Encircled by the Germans they retreated to the area around the port of Dunkirk. For years, it was assumed that Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to stop the attack, favouring bombardment by the Luftwaffe. However, according to the Official War Diary of Army Group A, its commander, Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt, ordered the halt. Hitler merely validated the order several hours after the fact. This lull in the action gave the British a few days to evacuate by sea and fortify defences. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, ordered any ship or boat available, large or small, to collect the stranded soldiers. 338,226 men (including 123,000 French soldiers) were evacuated – the miracle of Dunkirk, as Churchill called it. It took over 900 vessels to evacuate the Allied forces and although over two-thirds of those rescued embarked via the harbour, almost 100,000 were taken off the beaches. More than 40,000 vehicles as well as massive amounts of other military equipment and supplies were left behind, their value being less than that of trained fighting men. The British evacuation of Dunkirk through the English Channel was codenamed Operation Dynamo. Forty thousand Allied soldiers (some who carried on fighting after the official evacuation) were captured or forced to make their own way home through a variety of routes including via neutral Spain.

If you are approaching Dunkirk from a desire to see a Saving Private Ryan, then you may want to rethink going to see this film. With little convention in the storytelling, this film puts you on the beach, in the air, or on the sea alongside the civilians, pilots, soldiers, and officers. The focus is not on the characters, special effects, or the bloody atrocities of war, but focussed on highlighting a significant event in WWII history that has largely gone unknown except for those in France and the UK. You are very much like a journalist who is capturing the imagery with your camera. It’s a snapshot of war, not necessarily the story of war. War history buffs, this IS a film for you!

“Wonder Woman (2017)” film review

WONDERful! No seriously, this is an excellent film! And I’m just not talking about the superhero genre. DC finally hit a homer with this one. This film also serves as evidence that Zack Snyder can TELL/produce a great story but should probably stay out of the director’s chair. Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune’s Wonder Woman is the superhero film we needed. Trailing so far behind the Marvel brand and film quality, DC needed to produce a film that would make up for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad AND catch up to Marvel. Seemingly setting out to accomplish the impossible, this film exceeded all measurable expectations and provided a comprehensive cinematic experience. With many themes, this film hits on many topics and does so with incredible precision and elegance. It’s almost as if this film is an extension of Diana Prince herself. Never addressed or referenced as Wonder Woman actually, Diana Prince’s origin story is powerful and ever so apropos in today’s socio-political climate. If only we could all have the courage, compassion, and determination that Wonder Woman embodies and represents. There are certainly elements of this film that are directly aimed at the female audience members, but this is a film for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Again, not just a great superhero film, but a great film period. One that’s inspirational, evocative, and without need for qualifiers.

After receiving a mysterious package from Wayne Enterprises, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) opens it to find an old photograph of a Greco-Roman female warrior standing with British military in war-ridden Belgium. Bruce Wayne wants the story. Long before she was Wonder Woman, Diana, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, was a spirited young lady growing up on a beautiful and mysterious island inhabited by a super race of warrior women placed on the planet to watch out over those who seek to corrupt it. Being the only child on the island, she wanted to be trained alongside the other women. When her mother expresses a lack of interest in her daughter training, Diana meets secretly with her aunt. Through the years, Diana grows in strength, agility, courage, and cunning. After she rescues Captain Trevor (Chris Pine) from a downed plane that pierced the invisibility shield that hid the island from the rest of the world, she learns of the Great War happening just outside of their borders and makes the decision to leave her home and help man defeat the enemy combatants who she believes are being led by Ares, the Greek god of war. Fighting alongside men, Diana is able to realize her true destiny and powers as she stops at nothing to end the war that is killing so many innocent people and destroying the planet.

Ever since her creation in 1941 by psychologist William Marston, Wonder Woman has always been treated the best when all pre-existing inhibitions typically added to a female character in a “man’s” role are removed, allowing the feminist ethos at her core to shine and erupt with unbridled passion and strength. Among other traits, the chief characteristic that separates her from other superheroes in both the Marvel and DC universes respectively is–no, not her gender–it is her ability to integrate truth, justice, compassion, and courage in everything she does to protect the planet entrusted to her people by the Greek gods. The key to understanding Wonder Woman is not through her brute strength or supernatural powers, but through her love and compassion for innocent people and her own integrity. Rarely has any film truly given women (or anyone, for the matter) a strong female protagonist who does not pander but exhibits excellence in well-developed strength of character and a complete eruption of the fantasies of many women to rise up to serve and protect. It would have been far too easy to sell Diana Prince as a vengeful women out to destroy men or seek revenge for the destruction that has befallen the planet; but no, that is not the Diana we see. We see a heroine of others–a completely unselfish hero who is of earth. Being of the earth is truly what separates her from someone like Super Man. Sure, some strong female characters from with the world of comics, literature, theatre, TV, or film have demonstrated strong characteristics and have been leaders; but Wonder Woman sands alone as a film that provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer–the author–of her own destiny and story.

Why does this film work so well??? After all, that is the question you are likely asking yourself after so many DC flops (note: that does not count the Burton or Nolan films). The short answer is that Snyder was NOT in the driver’s seat on this ride; however, there is more to it than that. Snyder’s touch is certainly evident in many scenes (especially the action sequences); furthermore, he was greatly instrumental in the overall structure, but he took a backseat to the driver of this vehicle. His approach was important in the design of the car, and even building it, but when it came time to take it for a spin, he turned the steering wheel over to Director Patty Jenkins. Films featuring strong female protagonists most often seem to fair better when there is a women at the helm. And Wonder Woman is a testament to that observation. Whereas a male director would have likely spent some time sexualizing Diana, Jenkins spends the time on her courage and compassion. Instead of focusing on the terrain of Diana’s mystical home beautifully appointed with white cliffs and sapphire water or spending time on her sleek blade or even her trademark lasso of truth, Jenkins spends a significant amount of screen time on the terrain of Diana’s face. A face that communicates the heart, mind, and soul of Diana. Instead of a face displaying anger or disgust at the world of men, her face is often bright, hopeful, containing a winning smile with eyes overflowing with optimism. In terms of the production design itself, it only bares hints of Snyder’s penchant for beautiful music videos; the production design is one that takes itself seriously, but in the perfect amounts. Although the film is quite dark, there are sufficient moments of levity.

Perhaps you’re a stereotypical dude who does not care for films that feature female protagonists and feministic themes. No fear. Wonder Woman is actually a World War I film disguised as a superhero movie. As much as Wonder Woman works as an exceptional superhero movie, it is equally an impressive World War I film. Taking place in the days leading up to Armistice Day, this film displays the atrocities of war and the determination of both sides to win. You will find yourself in the trenches in France and Belgium with the Allied forces who, against all odds, are determined to defeat the enemy in order to stop genocide and widespread devastation. Placing Wonder Woman amidst the warriors of earth, connects her to humanity in ways that most superheroes cannot. Fighting for what you believe in is a major theme in this film. Some of the best war movies are those that “show don’t tell.” And Wonder Woman certainly shows what war really looks like instead of talking about it as some abstract concept or spending time in diplomacy. In fact, diplomacy is thrown out the window, and Diana lays the need to fight on the hearts of the bureaucratic leaders and soldiers alike. Pick up your sword and fight. Don’t just sit idly by while humanity is destroyed. There is a particular scene midway through the film that nearly brought me to tears because of the strong emotion and courage displayed by Diana.

Go see it! Wonder Woman is an exceptional film that will blow your mind. I had high expectations going into the film last night after the early reviews were released, but I was not prepared for the degree to which I would thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. It’s not only a film for women, it’s sincerely a film or everyone. Next time you are faced with great opposition, when it feels that the world is caving in around you, be a Diana Prince.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Allied” movie review

alliedQuite the duplicitous plot! Robert Zemeckis’ Allied released by Paramount Pictures is a thrilling tale of espionage and love. We have certainly seen a few different “spy” movies over the last couple of years; some more about espionage and others more about the drama that ensues afterwards. Fortunately, Allied feels like a genuine spy movie that actually contains espionage. The production design and costumes are a beautiful throwback to the fabulous 40s. You’ll find yourself reaching for a glass of champagne and swing dancing to Benny Goodman’s timeless big band jazz hit Sing, Sing, Sing. There is one city synonymous with WWII, espionage, and romance and you will appropriately return to that iconic city of Casablanca in Allied. This is definitely not a reimagined Casablanca but there are indirect references to that movie sprinkled throughout this new story. Films like this one require top notch talent, and both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard deliver outstanding performances to accompany this staple in film genres. Not limited to the love story between Pitt’s and Cotillard’s respective characters, the movie also includes some deadly shootout scenes and dangerously close encounters with the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Commander and intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) is stationed in the famous city of Casablanca in French Morocco where he teams up with French resistance movement leader Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard). Impressed by her ability to so effectively blend in and create her authentic cover, Vatan soon finds himself falling in love with his partner. Following the assassination of a Nazi ambassador, Beausejour and Vatan flee to London to start their life together. Everything is going beautifully for the happy couple in their second year of marriage with a child when Vatan’s superiors confront him with the suspicion that Marianne is in fact a Nazi spy. Refusing to believe it to be true, Max must now conduct his own investigation into his wife’s history to protect the ones he loves so dearly.

I absolutely adored the look and feel of the film as it echoes the era of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although this movie plays off a tad listless as a result of failing to elicit a strong emotional response from the audience, it is not without it outstanding elements. It benefits from solid acting and beautiful cinematography as well as some fantastic symbolism. Robert Zemeckis’ talent for visual storytelling is clearly visible in this period film. The weakness in the ability to successfully leave a lasting emotional impact on the audience is in the writing and executive producership of Steven Knight (Eastern Promises). For films that are not as much about the spectacle as they are the drama between characters and the challenges faced therein, it is vitally important that the personal/interpersonal relationships transcend the screen and directly impact the audience. All the makings were there for a deeply moving cinematic story, but it just doesn’t quite make that transition from the mostly superficial and distant.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…(interesting fun fact: this misquoted line from Snow White is actually “magic mirror on the wall”). But, I digress. The strategic use of mirrors is an  incredible use of visual storytelling and symbolism. For those who have studied film or literary rhetoric, the mirror is a classic means of conveying duplicity (two sides, faces, etc of a character). Even without knowing that this was a spy movie, I would have been able to infer that from how the mirrors are shot and placed within the composition of the 24 frames a second. When using powerful symbolism as part of the visual story, it conveys so much more meaning in a scene than words could actually describe. Mirrors have long sense been a powerful metaphor even before moving pictures. But motion pictures allow for a greater use of the importance it plays in a cinematic story. Not limited to duplicity, mirrors can also be used as a metaphor for self-reflection. Whether talking duplicity or reflection, the mirror aids in conveying so much to the audience in this movie.

Ordinarily, I am not a fan of classic films getting remakes; however, there are always exceptions when the core or essence of the film is held in tact but the production design, direction, and cinematography are brought up to speed with contemporary cinema. If you’re a fan of WWII era films or the timelsss spy movie, then you will definitely enjoy Allied. After witnessing the significance of Casablanca in this movie, I am actually looking forward to a remake if there ever is one. Provided. That the overall look and feel of the movie is in line with classical motion picture storytelling. I could definitely see Robert Zemeckis directing a remake of Casablanca. Occasionally there are directors who can strike the balance between a classic tale told through contemporary technology, and Zemeckis definitely struck that balance in Allied.

Don’t allow the weak writing to dissuade you from watching it; there is actually a lot to enjoy in this film. After the slow burn during the first act, acts II and III are full of intrigue and suspense.