“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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“Parasite” art house film review

An international film with domestic relevance. Writer-director Bong Joon-Ho delivers a thought-provoking satire on the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Joon-Ho’s film is perhaps a new interpretation of the Wes Craven cult film The People Under the Stairs with a brilliant message of the lengths one goes to climb out of poverty in a world of massive income and opportunity disparity. For those whom may be worried that you’ll be distracted by the subtitles, you needn’t worry. To be perfectly candid, the visual storytelling and acting is so incredibly good that you won’t need the subtitles to follow the story. You’ve no doubt heard from the various critic circles that this film is a masterpiece, that it’s one of the best films of the year. That hype train is barreling past station after station, will it ever come to a stop? The short answer is not any time soon. But is the hype justified by the cinematic experience? In the opinion of this critic, no. I had incredibly high expectations for this film based upon everything I was hearing and reading, but it just didn’t do it for me. After the brilliant first half of excellently crafted suspense, foreshadowing, and plot setup, the second half loses the intrigue and just takes one convoluted turn after another for the sake of complicating the plot in an effort to make it say more than it actually does. Much of the griping tension is lost by the time the anticlimactic showdown comes to pass. What hampers the execution of the second half is taking too many predictable turns. It’s like a research paper that has a brilliant thesis, background, literature review, and method section, but the results are lacking in advancement. But, what the film lacks in plot execution, it makes up for in lavish visuals and exquisite production design. That house is a character in and of itself! While it may not be the best film of the year, it is one to watch in order to support original, independent stories that are slowly dying because of the increased difficulty to seek funding and theatrical distribution in a world dominated by superheroes, space fantasy, and remakes of animated classics.

Jobless, penniless, and, above all, hopeless, the unmotivated patriarch, Ki-taek, and his equally unambitious family–his supportive wife, Chung-sook; his cynical twenty-something daughter, Ki-jung, and his college-age son, Ki-woo–occupy themselves by working for peanuts in their squalid basement-level apartment. Then, by sheer luck, a lucrative business proposition will pave the way for an insidiously subtle scheme, as Ki-woo summons up the courage to pose as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of the affluent Park family. Now, the stage seems set for an unceasing winner-take-all class war. How does one get rid of a parasite? (IMDb)

Where this film shines brightest is the production design, specifically the house and neighborhood designed and built specifically for the film. Honestly, this is on Kubrick levels of cinematic immersion. From a principle photography point of view, this allows for the structures to (1) be designed to accommodate the action, blocking, and general movements of characters (2) externalize emotion or bring to light a reality that lies beyond our naked eye and (3) allow for efficient camera movement, artistic placement, and simply brings the setting in the screenplay to life to the very last detail. As I watched the film, I wondered where they found the perfect basement apartment and upscale house because the locations fit the characters and narrative perfectly. Then when I learned that both locations (not to mention the Ki’s neighborhood) were custom built, then it make sense how it could have been so perfect. That is commitment to narrative integrity right there! From the architecture to the interior design and furnishings, the art direction of this motion picture is astounding! It certainly stands out against the backdrop of most of the films to have hit theatres this year in terms of its visual appeal, scope, and scale of the story.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another film this year that has the brilliant setup that this one has. From the moment the film opens, you are hooked. All throughout the first act, the conflict that we are going to encounter in the second act is setup and foreshadowed with extreme precision. It doesn’t take long to develop these characters as members of South Korean society that are having a tough time climbing out of poverty; furthermore, the first act paints a portrait of a world that appears to be stacked against them. All that changes when a cousin gets one of them hired as a tutor to a wealthy family. For how the rest of the setup unfolds, you’ll just have to watch the film. I appreciate how this film takes the home invasion plot premise to a new level by subverting what we expect from home invasion or heist films. In addition to developing our ensemble cast of central characters, the first act also successfully provides excellent exposition so that the audience never feels lost in this non-english speaking film. Sometimes American audiences can get lost in international films because of the language and cultural barrier. Fortunately, the language is never an issue in this film and there is virtually  character for everyone in the audience to connect or empathize with. From the opening until about midway through the film, the plot is engaging, suspenseful, and the tension ratchets up greatly.

Unfortunately, most of the tension and suspense begins to decline as we near the anticlimactic showdown of the film. This is where the film lost me. Not lost me in that I couldn’t follow it–quite the contrary–I found the latter half of the film predictable and derivative. Gone is the ingenuity that I loved during the first half. There was such genius in the setup that I expected more out of the conflict and resolution. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still enjoyable and even intriguing at times in the second half, but not nearly to the levels it was during the first act. It’s almost as if Joon-Ho did not imagine the ending before writing the second act. There is stark contrast between the precise focus and direction of the first half and the lack of direction in the second half. There are some moments that I want to highlight from the second act though, that I truly liked. There is a scene in which the Park family boy notices that all the newly hired help smell the same. Of course, his parents dismiss that as childish foolishness, but thanks to dramatic irony, we know that he is close to ruining the entire charade.

More than than the film itself, I am mystified by the intense hype train that continues to zoom through social media, picking up new people at every turn. It’s a good film, but I cannot reconcile the motion picture I saw with the proliferated accolades on social media the the web. You’ll hear that this is “the best film of the year,” but just a couple weeks ago, The Lighthouse was the best film of the year, and before that many claimed that Midsommar was the best film of the year. Seems like we get a best film of the year every few weeks. The danger of dissenting opinions on films like Parasite and The Lighthouse is the critic and cinephile establishments seeking to revoke your membership card because your taste is simply not refined enough to appreciate the artistic masterpiece right in front of you. Of course, it is entirely possible that the film is just not AS outstanding as so many want to claim that it is, but jump on that hype train out of fear of missing out or being seen as an outsider. So to that point, I feel that Parasite is a solid film, even excellent in the first act, but the second and third acts hold the film back from its full potential to truly be a masterpiece of cinematic art.

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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“The Lighthouse” mini film review

What did I just watch??? I still haven’t a clue, but it was sure beautiful to look at. The Lighthouse is visually stunning, brilliantly edited, and the performances are mindblowingly fantastic! There’s only one small problem–well, more like a big problem–there is no plot. Audiences will be left in the dark on this one. Roger Eggers was so busy focussing on the visual elements of the film (don’t get me wrong, that is very important) but I think he needed his own lighthouse to provide direction for the writing because the plot got lost at sea. No to be too blunt, but The Lighthouse is a directorial masterbatory exercise of film as a visual medium. The story, if you want to call it that, is more poetic than diegetic. Meaning, the story is emotionally driven versus action or even character driven. There lacks any narrative in the traditional sense, but much like a poem, there is visual imagery ripe for interpretation. I equate this film with a painting or sculpture in a museum. We may not know precisely what the artist intended, but we can read our own interpretation into the work of art. Therefore, that artwork holds special meaning for us. You can say the same thing about The Lighthouse. While there is not a plot to follow, the imagery will mean different things to different people. For bibliophiles, you will undoubtedly identify the Odyssey elements in the film, which I thought were great! What we have here is the poster child of an auteur’s film. There was such a focus on the art of visual storytelling that the actual story was nearly left out. And by story, I am referring to plot specifically. Even the great Cecil B. DeMille knew the importance of a motion picture with a story, “the greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” With such powerful imagery, expertly crafted and arranged in a brilliant fashion that intrigues and assaults the eyes all at the same time, I would have loved to have seen a well-developed plot that could have elevated the spectacle of the film to an experiential narrative.

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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“Crisis Hotline” (2019) Indie Film Review

Erotic thriller with a shocking twist. Mark Schwab’s Crisis Hotline is an indie film that is reminiscent of Psycho IV, yet is budding with originality. It’s not often that we see fresh or original interpretations of past premises, but this film provides audiences with a new lens through which to explore heartbreak, guilt, and abuse of power. The small cast and two primary locations allow audiences to focus on the conflict between the crisis hotline operator and the caller. But down the rabbit hole the audience goes as the caller elaborates on why he is making a decision to harm himself and others. Despite the excellent hook provided by the opening scenes that setup the intriguing premise, the tone of the film shifts back and forth from heavy drama to psychological thriller to an erotic love story. Thus, leaving the film searching for what it wants to be. The screenwriting suggests that the writer was experimenting with genre, but didn’t commit to any one to a signifiant level, so there are tropes of all the aforementioned. What sets this film a part from many others that possess some of the same characteristics is that it features a predominantly gay male cast. What I appreciate about the characters is that their sexuality isn’t the focus of the story; truthfully, you could replace this cast with a heteronormative cast, and the story could play out similarly. However, the choice to make the characters gay does allow Schwab to explore relationship dynamics not often seen in films. While the premise may be intriguing, the execution lacks precision brought on by the underdeveloped plot and mostly flat characters.

A race-against-time thriller that highlights the potentially darkest sides of the social media phenomenon. Jaded by the job of managing an LGBT crisis line, Simon (Corey Jackson) finds that most of his callers are using the service for reasons that would qualify as being certainly less than a crisis. That all changes when he gets a call from Danny (Christian Gabriel) who says he is in the process of killing himself. Instantly gripped by his first real case, Simon does his best to connect with Danny and find out why he has come to consider such a drastic action. As the tale of Danny’s journey is unraveled through the use of flashback sequences, we discover a young romance, a troubling network of individuals, and a dark secret. (IMDb)

Although the characters are mostly flat, that doesn’t mean that they lack relatability. In fact, the characters of Simon and Danny are highly relatable. We’ve all been jaded over something in our lives. Maybe it’s failed relationships or perhaps it’s work related. Whatever the case, we’ve all been there. Simon goes into this shift with the same feelings that some of us may have experienced in our own jobs. Those in the service industry can definitely relate to that. Maybe you’re a Danny; you know what it’s like to be the new guy in town without a system of established friends and trying to date. Or you’ve been betrayed by someone you loved after having gone a long time just going through the motions of dating to the point you can provide an analytical breakdown of the steps, rises, and pitfalls. When Danny calls Simon to explain why he is intending to do himself and others harm, we can place ourselves in Danny’s shoes because perhaps we have been extremely heartbroken over a terminated relationship. He is our conduit through which we experience the plot of the film. He is a de facto narrator, and as such, because he is expressing suicidal and homicidal ideas, he is established as an unreliable narrator. But we have no choice but to listen to him because he must provide “the context” for Simon to process the severity of the call. Simon must establish the legitimacy of the call before contacting the authorities because there have been many false crisis claims in the past. In many ways, we are like Simon, listening to every word and trying to piece together the puzzle. There is no dramatic irony in this film, so we learn as Simon learns. The scenes of Simon listening to Danny are the scenes that I feel work best because that is when tension is at its highest.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I want to touch on how the film explores heartbreak, guilt, and abuse of power. Heartbreak is evident from the onset because the caller speaks to his broken relationship with Kyle. But when Simon suggests that the caller is going to extremes over a bad breakup, the caller draws Simon in closer to reveal the sordid, disturbing context of the broken relationship. Though Simon listens to a soft spoken Danny on the phone, it is clear that he is experiencing immense psychological pain. The heartbreak is more than sadness over a relationship that is over, it goes much deeper because of the sadistic betrayal that is slowly revealed over the phone call exposition. In addition to the exhibited heartbreak, the caller hints at the guilt he feels for some of his decisions, but the full extent of the guilt is not realized until the end of the film. I appreciate the film exploring not only the heartbreak of relationship loss, but the guilt parties feel in the aftermath. Lastly, the film comments on gross abuse of power. Through the conversation on the phone, Simon learns that Kyle’s employment may not be on the up and up, despite Kyle explaining to Danny that his employers were not involved in anything illegal–just sleazy. But Danny slowly begins to understand the degree to which Kyle’s employers hold him a captive employee. While the focus is on Danny and Simon, the film provides context for the audience to realize that the love of money is the root of all evil, and can reduce people to zeros and ones. Evaluating persons as a commodity is a dangerous slope that can lead to one’s destruction.

Thematically, the film works very well. The premise feels fresh, and the character setups are interesting. The weakness in this film falls on the screenplay that lacks direction. Although the plot is initially interesting and starts out gripping, it was stretched too thin to fill a 90min run time. Thankfully, the twist at the end helps to justify having sat through the poorly paced scenes. Not that this needed to be a quickly paced film; on the contrary, this is a story that needed to be a slow burn. But a slow burn does not mean that scenes should be poorly paced or longer than they need to be. Alfred Hitchcock stated, “start your scene as close to the end as possible.” And to Crisis Hotline’s credit, some scenes are tight and effective. But there are many that feel like they could have moved the plot along more efficiently. While I may be coming down hard on this film for it’s weak plot and lack of character development (when there was such an opportunity to explore these characters further), it provides audiences with a some great atmospheric scenes, a believable love story, and some rather suspenseful moments. I appreciate the film for not including explicit sex scenes, because then it’s entirely possible that it may have felt too close to a porno with a loose storyline. It has a good story idea with relatable characters and an intriguing premise.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

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!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

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